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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Ballot, envelope and casting location bills pass Washington Senate

A voter casts her ballot on Oct. 22, 2018 at the downtown Spokane Public Library.   (Libby Kamrowski/The Spokesman-Review)
By Albert James The Spokesman-Review

OLYMPIA – Three bills, affecting election ballot return envelopes, the ballots themselves and the centers where they are cast, could soon become state law.

The bills were approved last week ahead of a Friday deadline for the Legislature to advance legislation – passing through the state Senate a week before the session ends. The legislation provides protections for voter information, more information on ballot measures affecting public investments and clarifies administrative rules around voting centers.

Two notable election bills, addressing the use of deep fakes in political campaigns and changing rules governing local voters’ pamphlets, failed to meet Friday’s deadline.

Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton said she and other county auditors advocated for a lot of bills this session, including changes to voter pamphlet rules. While some didn’t make it all the way through the process, she still is “very happy with the outcome of this legislative session,” she said.

“This has been the most positive legislative session for productive outcomes in my entire 24 years,” Dalton said in an interview.

The following bills still must be signed by Gov. Jay Inslee to become law.

Envelope public disclosure

A proposal that prevents disclosure of some information on envelopes voters use to return their completed ballots passed the Senate Wednesday by a 38-10 vote. The bill would exempt signatures, email addresses and phone numbers from disclosure under public records laws. Original envelopes could still be viewed by the public in person, with the Secretary of State empowered to create rules around the inspection process.

Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton supported the bill. She said the proposal creates consistency between ballot envelopes and voter registration records – where the information is already exempt from disclosure.

“This bill standardizes the protection of personal information of voters,” Dalton said. “Signatures are protected in the voter registration files for good reason – it’s your signature, it’s a form of identity.”

Passing the Senate on a bipartisan vote, Sen. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, said county auditors were concerned by an influx of people requesting ballot envelopes and making copies of them. The bill would provide protection to personal information, he said, while still allowing people to view the original envelopes.

Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview, offered an amendment explicitly making it clear that the bill would not limit authorized observers and canvassing boards from doing their duties. Opponents to the bill previously expressed concern that it would hinder election audit efforts, though supporters said that was not the case. Though the amendment failed, Wilson still supported the bill on final passage.

Investment impact


The Senate passed a bill Wednesday that would require the attorney general to draft an impact statement to appear with any ballot measure that modifies a tax or fee impacting state revenues.

The statement must provide a short description of what investments would be affected by the passing of the measure. The attorney general has the option to consult with the Office of Financial Management or other agencies in drafting the statement, but is not required to do so.

Passing the Senate in a 26-22 vote, Democrats said the bill would provide important information for voters.

“Voters deserve to know about the impact of their vote, especially when it comes to initiatives that change state revenue,” Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, said.

If a person has an issue with how the impact statement was prepared, they can challenge it in Thurston County Superior Court.

Republicans said they were concerned that the Legislature is interfering in the initiative process by mandating an impact statement. They also expressed concern about the attorney general being responsible for the statement.

“What this bill is asking the attorney general to do is to draft a statement about the fiscal impact of the initiative,” Senate Minority Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, said. “That doesn’t fall within the normal expertise of our attorney general.”

Voting centers rules

The Senate Wednesday unanimously backed a bill that would change the rules for voting centers and ballot drop boxes.

Dalton said there has been some confusion on whether or not a county elections office needs to be open on a special election night, even when that county is not running an election. The bill makes it clear that auditors would only have to open a voting center for a special election when they have an election happening.

While Spokane County hasn’t had problems keeping offices open, Dalton said, the lack of clarity has created a “burden” for smaller counties.

The bill also establishes perimeters around voting centers and ballot drop boxes where influencing or interfering with voters would be expressly prohibited. Auditors would also have to designate voting center entrances and post signs about the interference ban.

Dalton said there had been provisional rules regarding voter interference, but they were “just very unclear.” Having clearer rules and definitions will enable elections staff to enforce those bans, she said.

“If anything does happen, we’ve got a defined area that can be protected for the voter,” Dalton said.

The 60-day legislative session ends on March 10.