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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Seeking ways to get more voters registered and casting ballots

OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee, flanked by Yakima Deputy Mayor Dulce Guiterrez, talks about proposals to improve voter participation at a press conference Friday. (Rachel Sun / The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA - Washington needs more people registered to vote and more of those citizens casting ballots, Gov. Jay Inslee and other state and local officials said Friday as they unveiled a series of proposals they want the Legislature to consider.

The proposals include allowing new voters to sign up on Election Day, automatic voter registration, and districts that better represent the makeup of a community or neighborhood.

“In our last presidential elections, there were 1 million Washingtonians who could have voted but were not registered to vote. Almost another million were registered but did not vote,” Inslee said. “We owe it to everyone to have a democracy that is reflective of our entire state population.”

Qualifications for voting would remain unaffected by the changes, Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila, said.

“We are not changing any of the rigor around who can vote,” he said. “You have to be 18, you have to live in Washington state, you have to be a citizen. What we are changing is the process to make it easier for people to get into the system.”

Another goal of the bill package is increase the number of officials chosen by districts in Washington, rather than through at-large elections.

Yakima Deputy Mayor Dulce Gutierrez said district-based voting helped increase voter turnout and representation for minority communities in that city after council districts were drawn in 2015.

“We have seen a dramatic increase in community and civic engagement,” Gutierrez said. “The biggest breakthrough was having three Latinas elected in that first election cycle after district elections became the way of electing officials in Yakima.”

Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, D-Seattle, also supported the changes because they would lead to more diverse backgrounds in government.

“Democracy is about representation,” Saldaña said. “If you believe in democracy, you want to make sure that every person in your city and in your school district has a vote and a voice.”

More diverse representation in government has benefits beyond politics, Inslee said, and can convince students who are struggling to stay in school.

“When you see leaders like this who are leading their community, that helps out young people have a vision statement for themselves,” he said.