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Washington Democrats introduce bill to strengthen automatic voter registration

Washington Democrats in the state Legislature recently introduced a bill to strengthen automatic voter registration measures for young adults.

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In 2018, the Legislature passed automatic voter registration for anyone 18 years and older, but with one caveat: It required would-be voters to opt in.

The latest proposed legislation would switch the system to an opt-out format, meaning that registration would be truly automated unless someone specifically chooses not to register.

“Every voice needs to be heard to maintain a strong democracy,” said the bill’s primary sponsor, Democratic Sen. Marko Liias. “Getting more young people engaged in our democracy is critical to reaching this goal. While other states are installing unfair and unnecessary barriers to voting, here in Washington we are working hard to remove barriers and empower voter participation for everyone.”

Titled the “VOTE Act,” Liias’s bill would also create “Voter Empowerment Centers” at all of the state’s public four-year colleges, with the stated goal to “make it easier for college students to cast their ballots if they have last-minute challenges that would otherwise be a barrier to voting.”

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Washington state lawmakers have worked for years to improve voter turnout, including a measure that gave all mail-in ballots prepaid postage. 2019 represented the first big test for prepaid ballot postage for an off-year election, and by most indications, the system appeared to pass with flying colors.

“It is easier than ever to return your ballot with prepaid postage and nearly 70 drop boxes across King County,” said King County Elections Communications Officer Halei Watkins last August. “About 95 percent of voters live within 3 miles of a drop box — and really, with prepaid postage, there’s a drop box at the end of every driveway.”

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