March 8, 2013 |

Voters registration deadlines could be changed

Washington’s voter registration deadlines might be changed under a bill passed by the House, one of several elections-related measures approved by the chamber.

Engrossed House Bill 1267 extends the time period for voter registration closer to Election Day. Under current law, the online and mail-in registration deadlines are 29 days before an election and the in-person deadline is eight days prior. The original bill sought to allow people to register even on Election Day, but county auditors voiced strong opposition, so a compromise was reached. Under the bill as amended on the House floor, the mail-in deadline is moved to 28 days before an election, and the online and in-person deadlines are moved to 11 days before an election. The reason the mail-in deadline was moved by one day is that oftentimes the deadline falls on a federal holiday, which prevents the mailed voter registration application from being postmarked that day and therefore considered too late to be valid for that election. ESHB 1267 passed 64-33.

A more controversial bill passed by the House is SHB 1413 (the “Washington Voting Rights Act”), which addresses representation of minorities in local elections. The measure allows for minority individuals or groups to seek court orders to jurisdictions, including towns or cities of at least 1,000, school districts, fire district, counties and ports, to reform their elections, such as voting by wards. It passed on a 53-44 nearly party line vote. One Democrat sponsor said proportional representation is reflective of American democracy. Republicans countered that the bill was unnecessary and potentially costly.

Among the elections bills approved by the House were two requested by our office:

House Bill 1157 updates and corrects election law, including statutes related to the old Pick-a-Party Primary, which was signed into law in 2004 and used in Washington through 2007. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Top 2 Primary system in March 2008, 3½ years after Washington voters overwhelmingly approved it through Initiative 872 in 2004. Passed 97-0.

House Bill 1639 adjusts presidential electors’ compensation to reflect current reimbursement rates. Since 1891 (yes, that is 122 years), Washington has provided $5 per diem and 10 cents per mile travel allowance in compensation to electors who come to Olympia to take part in the Electoral College once every four years to cast the state’s electoral votes for the popular winning ticket statewide. The bill brings compensation for Washington’s 12 electors in line with current per diem and travel compensation. Passed 78-19.

Other elections bill passed by the House include:

SHB 1103, requiring the Secretary of State to work with the State Association of County Auditors to develop a uniform ballot format to be used be each county by 2022. Passed 77-20.

2SHB 1195, allowing partisan races to always have a primary, and mandating that nonpartisan races only have a primary if three or more candidates file. Passed 96-1.

HB 1279, allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to preregister to vote when they apply for a driver’s license or identicard. Passed 55-42.

HB 1474, eliminating the provision in judicial and SPI races that allows only one candidate, who receives a majority of votes in the primary, to appear on the General Election ballot. Under the bill, the names of the two candidates receiving the most votes in the primary must appear on the General Election ballot. Passed 97–0.

The measures all headed to the Senate. Senators are considering their own election package.

Secretary of State Kim Wyman praised the House for paying close attention to election administration bills. She supported a number of the changes and will continue working with lawmakers in the remaining weeks of the session to achieve workable legislation for the millions of Washington voters.

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