OLYMPIA – Washington could soon allow, and even encourage, 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote so that they will be on the rolls and start getting ballots as soon as they turn 18.
The Senate gave final approval and sent to Gov. Jay Inslee a bill that supporters said would allow them to sign up for future ballots at the most common place people register – when getting a driver’s license.
It later approved a second proposal which would automatically register eligible Washington citizens when they receive an enhanced driver’s license.
“Motor Voter is the most effective way to register. It is not available to 16- and 17-year-olds,” said Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane. Those who sign up at 16 often don’t come back to the Department of Motor Vehicles until they are 21.
Critics argued that registering to vote was easier than it has ever been, with registration possible by mail and online as well as Motor Voter.
“The struggle is to get them to actually fill out the ballot,” Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said.
The change opens the system up to fraud because teens who are illegally in the state could pre-register at 16 and a ballot be sent to them at 18, critics said. There should be some barriers to registration so voters have confidence in the democratic process, Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, said.
Schools would also be required to coordinate voter registration in high school, and set aside class time to complete the forms. Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, called that an inappropriate mandate on schools.
Other opponents mocked the law. Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn, said the state should just register babies at birth and begin mailing out ballots 18 years later.
“It would just be easier if county auditors mailed out four ballots to every household … and called it good,” Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, said.
But Sen. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, said teens who pre-register will face the same citizenship requirements as anyone else, and the same penalties for illegally registering.
“It’s the same rules for everybody. There’s nothing in here that’s different for 16- and 17-year-olds,” Hunt said.
On automatic voter registration, the Senate voted 29-20 to allow citizens who aren’t registered to be added to the rolls when they apply for an enhanced driver’s license. That special license requires proof of citizenship, which isn’t needed for a standard license.
County auditors must send a confirmation letter to the address a prospective voter gives as an extra step to verify the registration.
The bill now returns to the House because of several changes the Senate approved, including an amendment that will keep the full birthdate of every registered voter in the public voter database. The Senate had voted several weeks ago to remove the day and month of each voter, leaving only the year.
Secretary of State Kim Wyman, the state’s chief election officer, had opposed that change, saying she didn’t like to tell citizens they couldn’t see information the state has.
Sen. Mark Miloscia, R-Federal Way, the amendment’s author, said its goal was transparency. “We all believe in disclosure of information to the public.”