State House passes bill to give local voters stronger voices

  • Wednesday, March 1, 2017 11:20am
  • News
State Rep. Mia Gregerson, D-SeaTac.

State Rep. Mia Gregerson, D-SeaTac.

The state House of Representatives passed the Washington Voting Rights Act on Monday in Olympia in an effort to give every community a voice in democracy.

This marks the fifth year in a row that the House has passed this legislation; earlier versions have not made it out of the Senate. The legislation will create a swifter and less costly path to justice for individuals who have been shut out of their local elections, according to a House Democrats media release. The measure went to the Senate on Wednesday for a first reading.

“It’s not an easy task to rethink the way we have always made democracy work,” said Rep. Mia Gregerson, D-SeaTac, the prime sponsor of the legislation. “Today the House voted to strengthen democracy by giving communities another option to have their voices heard.”

The bill, HB 1800, initially modeled after the Federal Voting Rights Act, would allow communities who are systemically disenfranchised in local government elections to challenge the process in state court, after a six-month cooling off and negotiating period. Unlike the Federal Voting Rights Act, which typically requires lengthy and expensive litigation, this new state process would be quicker and less costly. Before even going to court, the Washington Voting Rights Act would require that the parties work toward a collaborative solution.

By empowering these jurisdictions to fix the problem. It will lower costs for local governments and taxpayers. Municipalities that make meaningful change would be protected from future lawsuits.

The result would be an improved process for addressing systems that perpetually under-represent the needs of some voters, such as moving to districted elections instead of at-large. Underrepresented voters would have a stronger voice in the government closest to them.

“Changing election processes can have a meaningful impact,” said Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila, chair of the State Government, Elections & Information Technology Committee. “As we have seen in Yakima and Seattle, switching to district-based elections results in government that is representative of its citizens.”

“Representative government starts with having elected officials that understand local issues and have the trust of the community,” said Gregerson. “Unfortunately, in some places the system that we have been using for decades is no longer working for everyone. This law would help to safely break down an archaic system that makes it difficult for disenfranchised communities. I am hopeful that with each year we pass this bill we are a step closer to creating a system that provides accountability for elected officials at every level.”

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