Thursday, January 26, 2023
Jan. 26, 2023

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Camden: Legislature mulls election laws

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As happens in most sessions, legislators have proposals to alter the way they got their jobs by making some changes in the state’s election laws.

This should come as no surprise, because regardless of their other qualifications, all politicians tend to think they are experts on elections, having won at least one in the not too distant past. Because some eke out close victories and some win in blowouts, and some win through stances on key issues while others primarily get by on name familiarity or the party preference listed on the ballot, their expertise and the ideas they offer tend to be pretty diverse.

One would require Voters’ Pamphlets to contain a warning on the inside cover that it is a felony to vote if one is not an American citizen, is a felon who has not had voting rights restored, or is filling out someone else’s ballot, and print a phone number to report suspected instances of voter fraud. Even though such fraud is rare, considering all the information that comes in a voter pamphlet – last year’s had seven pages of info before getting to a ballot issue – such a warning doesn’t seem out of bounds.

Washington elections laws have become among the nation’s most liberal in recent years, through online registration, all-mail balloting and a 2017 voters rights law designed to address local systems that can be weighted against minorities. After an attempt to further address possible biases failed last year, supporters are back with a somewhat scaled-down version.

There also are some novel ideas, from either end of the political spectrum, that may have limited prospects.

Democrats in the Senate and the House have matching proposals for “Universal Civic Duty Voting” that would require all eligible citizens to be registered to vote unless they specifically opt out through a waiver.

But, you might say, if they aren’t all that interested in registering, won’t they be unlikely to vote? The bills have an answer for that, too, by requiring all registered voters to cast a ballot in every primary and general election. They could mail in a blank ballot, but it would be illegal not to vote, although the bill does not spell out any penalty for failing to do so.

Unlike the changes to the voting rights statutes, proposals for Universal Civic Duty Voting haven’t been set for a hearing in either chamber. That’s a bad sign at least for the Senate version, which has Sen. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, chairman of the committee that would hear the bill, in control of the schedule.

Sen. Phil Fortunato, a conservative Republican from Auburn, is proposing the state test its voter registration and ballot validation by hiring “hackers to probe the system” by trying to register in multiple counties, cast ballots and have them counted. The hacking would be under the supervision of the Secretary of State’s office.

Fortunato labeled it the State Elections Confidence Using Rigorous Examinations or SECURE Act, proving if nothing else that Republicans are better at coming up with catchy acronyms for their legislation.

At Friday’s hearing, Fortunato likened the hackers to teens hired by the Department of Licensing, who try to buy alcohol in stings designed to catch liquor stores selling to minors. They wouldn’t be breaking the law because they would be “agents of the state,” he said.

“It may not, in fact, be a problem, but we don’t know until we test it,” he added.

Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, scoffed at the proposal, contending that voter fraud is “negligible,” and suggested Fortunato spend some time with county auditors to learn more about the systems already in place to catch duplicate registrations.

“This is a solution looking for a problem,” she said.

Hackers looking for a green light from the state to test their skills might not want to get their hopes up as it may also be a solution looking for a pathway to passage.

It has no listed co-sponsors in the Senate, no companion bill in the House and no date on the Senate committee calendar for a chance to advance to the full chamber.

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