Op-Ed

Legislature should move presidential primary earlier to complete voting reforms

Rep. Sam Hunt, D-22
Rep. Sam Hunt, D-22 Courtesy of the Washington State Legislature

During the 2018 election, we watched in horror as many states looking for political advantage, suppressed voting rights of select groups of eligible, legal voters.

In Georgia, tens of thousands of people were purged from voter rolls. In North Dakota, Native Americans were told that their tribal identification cards were no longer adequate means of identification for voting.

As Americans, we learned some hard lessons. Fundamental rights promised under our democracy are not safe, and our democracy is not fair for everyone. We must constantly fight to ensure our democracy is applied fully and fairly. People seem to forget we have the right to vote — not just the privilege to vote.

Last year, the Legislature passed an ambitious set of election reforms to expand access to democracy. Soon, people in Washington will be able to register to vote on the day of an election. Sixteen- and 17-year-olds will be able to pre-register to vote. People will be automatically registered to vote as a result of their interactions with certain state agencies.

The Washington Voting Rights Act ensures our communities of color have a shot at fair representation. The DISCLOSE Act is a nation-leading transparency effort to reveal the source of hidden money in campaigns by non-profit special interests.

As the chair of the Senate State Government, Tribal Relations & Elections Committee, I am immensely proud of the progress we made in 2018. But I also see a need to do more.

This session, I’m sponsoring a measure to update our presidential primary process allowing for greater voter participation and giving Washington voters greater influence in national elections.

My bill would move our presidential primary to the second Tuesday in March, allowing the greatest participation in both parties’ presidential nominating process. We know already that our vote-by-mail system breaks down barriers, so let’s take advantage of it. History shows us that primaries are more representative than party caucuses.

Caucuses are often inaccessible to people who work Saturdays or have other time commitments. Our military personnel serving overseas and people working out of state are denied access. It’s time to move away from that antiquated system.

My committee is considering a bill that would continue pre-paid ballot postage, thanks to Sen. Joe Nguyen (D-White Center). Another bill from Sen. Patty Kuderer (D-Bellevue) would restore voting rights for people who are serving community custody sentences, and meeting all the conditions of their sentence.

The Native American Voting Rights Act, a bill from Sen. John McCoy (D-Tulalip), would allow tribes to request ballot drop boxes on reservations. It would also allow tribal members to use non-traditional addresses on tribal lands when registering to vote.

Washington state is setting the example for increasing access to democracy by ensuring that we have safe, secure and accessible avenues to the right to vote. We will not fall victim to the fear-mongering roadblocks being built in other states.

By making sure that Washington citizens can easily exercise their right to vote, we make our state stronger.

State Sen. Sam Hunt is a Democrat who represents the 22nd Legislative District, which encompasses northern Thurston County, including Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater. Reach him at 360-786-7642 or sam.hunt@leg.wa.gov.
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