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Published on Monday, December 18, 2017

Another bill seeks to implement a Washington Voting Rights Act

Proposals implementing a state Voting Rights Act have been introduced and debated in the Legislature for several years. Under existing federal law if a Washington voter is a member of a minority group (in race, color or language) and believes that local voting procedures denied them equal opportunity to participate in the nomination and election process to elect a representative of their choice, they can challenge the local procedures in federal court.

A bill heard last session (HB 1800), if passed, would provide a Washington voter the ability to challenge voting procedures in state court if, after 180 days’ notice of an alleged violation, the jurisdiction fails to implement a remedy. HB 1800 (and its companion bill) is still in committee for potential consideration in the 2018 session.

A new bill seeking to implement a state Voting Rights Act, SB 6002, was prefiled last week and mirrors many of the provisions in HB 1800. SB 6002, however, includes additional local authority to voluntarily change their council election system, additional notice provisions for local governments that choose to change their system, and triples the amount a time a jurisdiction has to remedy a violation when it receives more than one notice proposing materially different remedies (from 90 days to 270 days). SB 6002 also extends the implementation date.

As telegraphed by both the Governor and new Democratic majorities in the Legislature, early action is expected on voting rights legislation in the 2018 session. AWC continues to take a neutral position on this legislation, acknowledging that cities have varying opinions about this issue and the proposals. We are engaging with legislators and stakeholders to provide our ideas and perspectives, and to work to identify actions cities can take to be proactive. Examples of steps that cities can take now include actively engaging minority groups within your city, evaluating past elections to understand how your city’s election system works, and seeking advice from experts on this issue.

Categories: General government