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Published on Monday, January 22, 2018

Senate passes substitute version of Voting Rights Act bill; House considering its own substitute

The Senate passed ESSB 6002 on Friday, two weeks into session. This version addressed many issues that would have been overly burdensome to cities on implementation; however, it has the following provisions that continue to be a concern for cities:

  • Languages required for public notice: If five percent of the city – or 500 residents, whichever is fewer – speaks a language other than English, the jurisdiction must provide notice of the proposed voluntary change to their election system, including radio or television ads, “in languages that diverse residents of the subdivision can understand,” according to demographic data.
  • Standing to sue: Inconsistent language between sections on who may file a notice and lawsuit – “any person” and “any voter who resides in the jurisdiction” (Compare Sec. 304 with Sec. 401).
  • Inconsistent statement of violation: During notice, proponent has to show polarized voting and only a significant risk that members of a protected class did not have equal opportunity to elect candidates as a result of the dilution or abridgement of their rights (See Sec. 302). Once a lawsuit is filed, a court will determine whether the election process “impairs the ability of members of a protected class…to have an equal opportunity…” (See Sec. 104; see also Sec. 401.). This second provision requires showing an actual lack of equal opportunity.
  • Time to address two or more notices: No additional time is provided.
  • Applicability: Applies to cities with a population of one thousand or more.

The House Rules Committee is considering SHB 1800. This version varies from the Senate version:

  • Reduced timelines to propose a remedy: If a notice is received after July 1, 2021, a jurisdiction only has 90 days to adopt a remedy (instead of 180 days).
  • A rebuttable presumption against the city’s proposed remedy during the notice process.
  • The bill also has the same areas of concern as the engrossed substitute Senate bill on public notice, standing to sue, and applicability to small cities, as stated above.

Both bills removed language expressly allowing an alternative proportional voting method as an option for local jurisdictions enacting voluntary changes to their election system or as a court-ordered remedy. Both bills are now silent on this issue. However, HB 2746 was introduced and it would allow local governments to choose a proportional voting system, including rank choice voting. The secretary of state must approve any proportional voting system before it is adopted by a jurisdiction. The bill also allows jurisdictions to eliminate the primary election. HB 2746 has a hearing on Tuesday, January 23 at 8 am in House State Government, Elections & IT Committee.

Stay tuned as these bills will continue to get early attention in the session. Please contact Shannon McClelland with any questions or concerns.

Categories: General government