The U.S. House of Representatives passed a sweeping voting rights bill this week, and while much of it won’t affect Washington, Secretary of State Kim Wyman still has some concerns.
HR 1 would expand voting rights and overhaul campaign finance and redistricting laws. House Democrats passed the legislation Wednesday, a move to stop some Republican efforts nationwide to restrict voter access.
When the bill passed the House in 2019, Wyman testified against it, sharing concerns that it was too partisan, sweeping and expensive for many states, and didn’t include enough input from election officials. Her concerns this time are the same.
While the ideas in the bill are good, Wyman said, her biggest concerns are its lack of Republican input and its sweeping nature. The bill is “completely written by Democrats without substantive input from their Republican counterparts.”
Both sides are guilty of it with election legislation, Wyman said.
“It’s the problem I have with any election legislation,” she said. “When either party is writing election law and not consulting election administrators and election officials, it doesn’t matter how good the ideas are.”
Much of what’s in HR 1 is already being done in Washington.
It would create a nationwide voter-registration system that would require state election officials to automatically register eligible individuals unless they opt out. It would also keep all voter information in one place. While there is no nationwide system, Washington does have a statewide database that keeps all voter information in one place, called VoteWA.gov.
The bill would also require states to offer same-day voter registration, as well as at least 15 days of early voting for federal elections. Washington implemented same-day voter registration during a general election for the first time last year. Because of Washington’s mail-in voting system, voters have 18 days to return their ballots or vote in person if they need assistance.
It also makes some changes in campaign finance law, requiring super PACs to disclose donors publicly and establishing a public funding match for small-dollar donations.
One change that might affect Washington is the creation of an independent redistricting commission, not made up of lawmakers, to approve congressional districts. Currently, Washington has a bipartisan commission of four members appointed by the Legislature. It includes two Republican appointees, two Democratic appointees and a fifth, nonvoting, nonpartisan chairperson.
HR 1’s plan would create a 15-person commission, split evenly between Democrats, Republicans and independents.
Still, the change wouldn’t affect Washington that much, Wyman said, as the state’s commission is already a bipartisan mix of nonlawmakers.
Along with the partisan nature of HR 1, Wyman said her other main concern is how sweeping the legislation is with little funding attached to it to help states make the changes.
Wyman would like to see Congress tackle election funding across the country. Some counties don’t have enough funds for updated technology, voting centers or good cybersecurity.
“It’s very patchwork with uneven access to voting,” she said.
If Congress passes sweeping legislation such as HR 1 but doesn’t provide adequate funding for it, it could be very difficult for states across the country to implement the changes.
Increased access to mail-in voting or creating a database like VoteWA.org takes time and money, Wyman said, and not every state has that.
Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney joined 15 other lawmakers in sending a letter to party leaders in both the House and the Senate expressing their opposition to HR 1.
In the letter, election officials called it “a dangerous overreach by the federal government into the administration of elections.” The letter went on to say each state legislature should have the freedom to determine best election practices for their state.
It reads: “These bills intrude upon our constitutional rights, and further sacrifice the security and integrity of the elections process. We firmly believe the authority to legislate and regulate these changes should be left with the states.”
Wyman said she did not sign this letter because HR 1 wouldn’t affect Washington as much as it would a lot of the other states. She also knows how many of her constituents support HR 1, which she doesn’t think is “a black and white issue.”
In a similar move, 20 Republican attorneys general, including Idaho’s Lawrence Wasden, sent a letter calling the bill “unconstitutional.”
HR 1 is likely to face challenges in the Senate, where Democrats only hold a slim majority, not enough to pass the bill without the Senate filibuster. The bill passed in the House in 2019 but never made it to the Senate floor.
Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.
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