This editorial was published by the Columbian of Vancouver, Wash.
By approving several new laws related to voting and registration, Washington has taken steps to strengthen our democracy.
This is not something to be taken lightly. At a time when citizens are apathetic and when our election system is under attack from a foreign adversary, it is essential for Americans to bolster the integrity of how we choose officials to make and defend our laws and policies.
"These new laws are a positive step forward for our state's elections, as they improve both public access and security in the registration process," said Secretary of State Kim Wyman, Washington's top election official. "Making it easier for citizens to register streamlines access to the ballot box so more Washington residents can make their voices heard."
Allowing voices to be heard must be the goal of election laws, and it provided the impetus for measures signed last week by Gov. Jay Inslee.
- House Bill 2595 will add citizens to voter rolls when they obtain enhanced driver's licenses or ID cards. Obtaining such identification requires proof of citizenship, which is important to cementing public confidence in the system. Allegations that non-citizens are allowed to vote, including those put forth by President Donald Trump, often undermine that confidence. Trump convened a commission to investigate voter fraud, but it was disbanded after failing to find widespread deceit. The president would better serve democracy by taking seriously conclusions from the intelligence community that Russia worked to influence and undermine the 2016 election.
- Senate Bill 6002, the Washington Voting Rights Act, helps ensure that local governments and school boards better reflect the diversity of their constituencies. It eases the path for changing, say, a city council from at-large positions to voting by district. Voting for at-large positions can disenfranchise minority populations; to use an extreme example, if three members of a city council reside on the same block, then parts of the city are underrepresented.
- Senate Bill 5991 improves transparency by requiring nonprofit organizations not defined as political committees to file disclosures if they make contributions to campaigns above a certain threshold. Importantly, the organizations must disclose certain contributors, shedding light upon the so-called dark money that often floods into campaigns.
- And House Bill 1513 encourages high school teachers to hold voter-registration events and guides the superintendent of public instruction to provide civic education programs for teachers to use in class.
In the long run, that last item will be the most important. Many steps have been taken around the country to boost voter participation, and those efforts largely have fallen upon a disinterested populace. Last November's elections, which primarily included races for local positions such as city councils and school boards, drew statewide turnout of 37 percent among registered voters; in Clark County, turnout was 31 percent, among the lowest in the state.
Making it easier to vote will not, by itself, increase turnout. As they say, you can lead a horse to water... .
But improving civics lessons, teaching how our democracy works and impressing upon teenagers the importance of voting can provide long-lasting benefits. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, "Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves, and the only way they could do this is by not voting."
We hope the people of Washington will come to understand that. Our democracy depends upon it.