Just as he outlined a few weeks ago, Democratic Rep. Sam Hunt of Olympia mustered votes to push a handful of elections bills out of the House Government Operations and Elections Committee on Tuesday. Chief among them is a voting rights act letting cities and counties create minority-friendly electoral districts, a bill letting 16- and 17-year-olds preregister to vote when they get driver licenses, and a bill requiring ballot drop boxes on college campuses.
Also approved was a bill allowing voter registration on Election Day – for in person registrations – and changing the deadline for online registrations from 29 days before the election to eight days. Several of the votes were split along party lines – with majority Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed – passing by a 6 to 5 margin.
The Senate also is looking at changes to election law, and a bill requiring Washington’s vote-by-mail ballots to be received by elections departments by 8 p.m. Election Day moved out of committee Monday evening. Republican Sen. Pam Roach of Auburn sponsored Senate Bill 5291, which the Secretary of State’s Office is not supporting.
Hunt said the House bills have a good chance of getting out of the full chamber, but he is not sure what the future holds when they get to the Senate. Despite the party line approach Tuesday, it is possible some of the bills might get House Republican votes on the floor.
On House Bill 1290, which sets minimum standards for drop boxes on college campuses, Republican Rep. Gary Alexander, who also serves as Thurston County auditor, voted against. But he said changes already made to the bill helped scale down the costs that local elections offices would incur. Although he voted no, he said he wanted to keep working on the measure and thinks there needs to be a limit on how many college sites are guaranteed drop boxes.
Hunt said he also had that concern about HB 1290, which is sponsored by Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines. Hunt said it makes sense to limit the drop boxes to a main campus.
A drop box bill also is moving in the Senate that has fewer restrictions than the House bill.
Local elections officials had pushed back against the drop-box mandates in hearings, while advocates for students urged lawmakers to make sure students could easily vote. Elections officials also pushed back against election-day registration, saying they would need to add critical staff on a day they want to start counting ballots.
But Hunt said Election Day is a day to vote, not count ballots.
Also splitting along party lines was HB 1195, a bill that gets rid of the primary election in off-year races to fill vacancies – if no more than two candidates are running. Rep. Vincent Buys, R-Lynden, said he had some heartburn over limiting the legislative races to only a general election.
There is still time for many more bills to get a vote. The cutoff or deadline for policy bills to move out of committee in their house of origin is not until Feb. 22.