Rep. Luis Moscoso of Mountlake Terrace and Sen. Cyrus Habib of Kirkland introduced the Washington Voting Rights Act on Wednesday.
The legislation, HB 1745 in the House and SB 5668 in the Senate, empowers local governments to tailor solutions to systemic electoral issues, helping ensure fairness in local elections and a voice for all communities.
“The most fundamental principle of American democracy is that elections should be free, fair and accessible to all,” Moscoso said. “Regardless of whether individual candidates win or lose, we must ensure that every community in our state has an opportunity to have their voices heard in the electoral process. The Washington Voting Rights Act is a fair and reasonable solution.”
Building upon its passage by the House and bipartisan passage out of the Senate Government Operations committee last session under the leadership of Sen. Bob Hasegawa, D-Seattle, this year’s legislation has bipartisan support. It is modeled on the successful California Voting Rights Act, which has worked to improve the fairness of local governments, mostly through jurisdictions voluntarily changing their electoral systems.
“There’s no silver bullet to ensure that everyone can be heard in our democracy, but if there are systemic issues preventing entire communities from being heard in our elections, that’s something we need to remedy,” Habib said.
The 2015 legislation provides local jurisdictions with tools to avoid being sued under the federal Voting Rights Act. These tools include requiring community members to bring forward data and analysis to support claims of flawed electoral systems, a delayed implementation schedule to allow local jurisdictions time to examine their electoral systems, and four years of safe harbor from lawsuits for those jurisdictions that do implement fixes to their electoral systems. The result would be legislation that can help avoid expensive federal litigation.
“The fight to ensure equality in voting has been a centuries-long struggle in America,” Habib added. “We should do what we can now to make sure that fundamental American principles of fairness and accessibility in government can flourish here in Washington.”