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WA Bucks National Trend by Increasing Voter Access


October 11, 2011

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Whether the ability to vote is a right or a privilege may depend on where you live. Across the country, a record number of new laws have passed that make voting more difficult - but not in Washington.

A new report from New York University's Brennan Center for Justice shows that the Evergreen State isn't part of the trend to require proof of citizenship or photo ID, eliminate same-day registration, or reduce early-voting options. These types of restrictions passed in 14 states in the last year, with dozens more similar proposals under consideration.

Kim Abel, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Washington, says she hears often enough that people don't feel their votes matter, and making it harder to cast a ballot won't help.

"I am very proud of Washington and our legislators recognizing that we want to make sure every valid voter who's taken the time to register gets a chance to have their vote count. And I hope that they'll continue to feel that way, and guard that right to vote."

In fact, Washington increased its voter rolls by restoring voting rights for felony offenders after release from prison, as long as they're abiding by the terms of their release. It's a change the League of Women Voters of Washington supported, according to Abel.

"That law in 2009 allowed folks, while they're in the process of paying back any restitution, to begin voting again. So, that got that voter back into the process of being part of their community, and having a say and making a difference."

The Brennan Center report says in the past year, two states, Florida and Iowa, that had let people with criminal convictions vote reversed their laws and no longer allow it.

The report says the new laws could make it "significantly harder" for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012, including renters, students, minorities and seniors. Those who approve of the more restrictive laws say they prevent voter fraud. Abel says Washington's system of checking signatures has been an effective deterrent.


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