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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Washington residents could register on Election Day

First-time voter Rachel Howard, 21, a Gonzaga University student, places her election ballot in a ballot box outside the downtown Spokane Public Library on Monday, Nov. 7, 2016. The state is considering strategies to increase voter turnout, including a proposal that would allow voters to register the day of an election. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA – Washington residents could find it even easier to register to vote, with eligible citizens allowed to sign up as late as Election Day and teens allowed to “pre-register” as young as 16 so that they’ll be on the rolls at 18.

With the state recording one of its worst voter turnouts in history in last year’s general election, those proposals were among a number considered Wednesday by the House State Government, Elections and Information Technology Committee.

On a party-line vote, the committee approved and sent to the full House a bill that would allow eligible state residents to register in person and cast a vote on Election Day. They could also register by mail or online up to eight days before the election.

State law currently cuts off online and mail registration 29 days before the election, and in-person registration eight days before the election.

Rep. Laurie Dolan, D-Olympia, the bill’s prime sponsor, said Election Day registration could do more to increase voter turnout than any other change being considered.

“If they forget to get excited until Election Day, they’ll still get there,” she said.

Rep. Morgan Irwin, R-Enumclaw, said Republicans might eventually support the changes but wanted to see other proposals on improving voter registration.

A separate bill would try to generate interest in high school students by allowing them to fill out a form when they are 16 that would automatically register them when they turn 18. This kind of pre-registration could take place when they get their first driver’s license, in civics classes or on Jan. 16, which is set aside as “Temperance and Good Citizenship Day” and can feature future voter programs.

The names and addresses of pre-registered teens wouldn’t be included in the public voter registration lists until they turn 18 and are actually registered, said Lori Augino, state elections director.

Under current law, only Washington residents who are at least 17 1/2 and will be 18 before Election Day are able to pre-register, allowing them to vote in that upcoming election.

Irwin asked teens who had come to speak in support of the bill why registration and turnout was so low among young voters even though it is easy to register in person, by mail or online, and the state delivers a ballot to their door. They told him that many of the peers feel their vote is worthless because they are just one person among millions.

The committee is expected to vote on the teen pre-registration bill in the coming days.