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Thursday, November 30, 2023
Nov. 30, 2023

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In Our View: Washington remains at cutting edge of elections

The Columbian

The problem with Donald Trump’s persistent falsehoods about voter fraud and a “stolen election” isn’t so much that people believe the lies. It’s that a small seed of doubt is planted; citizens become emboldened to ignore any truth that doesn’t fit their preconceived beliefs — whether or not there is evidence to support those beliefs.

Even among citizens who recognize Trump for the charlatan that he is, this undermines our democracy. And it has led many Republican-controlled states to roll back voting rights inch by inch, bolstered by specious claims of election malfeasance.

In September, Election Law Journal reported that in the previous 12 months, 19 states had passed 33 new laws making voting more difficult. That is no way to run a democracy, and it makes us grateful to live in a state that respects voting as an inherent right for all American citizens.

The Legislature this year reinforced that ethos, passing legislation requested by Secretary of State Steve Hobbs to enhance voter access and protect the election process.

One new law, Senate Bill 5208, will allow online voter registration with the last four digits of a Social Security number instead of a driver’s license or state ID number. It was supported by Southwest Washington Democrats and opposed by local Republicans.

Another, Senate Bill 5112, will make registration automatic for people who have proved their citizenship while applying for an enhanced driver’s license or state ID card. Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, voted with Democrats in favor, while other Republicans voted against.

And another, Senate Bill 5152, prohibits political campaigns from using false images, videos or audio without a disclosure that the material has been manipulated. Rivers and Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, joined Democrats in approving the measure.

That legislation is designed to guard against “deepfake” videos that suggest a candidate said something he or she did not say. Campaigns targeted by such videos may now seek an injunction and sue for damages.

Recognizing the role of modern technology in elections is an extension of Washington’s long-held place at the cutting edge of elections. While many states still require in-person voting at polling stations, our state has had vote-by-mail for two decades.

Critics falsely claim that vote-by-mail is less secure than in-person voting. But having ballots filled out at a polling place and then handed to poll workers is much more susceptible to chicanery. The more people who handle a ballot, the more opportunities there are for a ballot to get “lost”; or for ballot boxes to be stuffed by nonexistent voters; or for somebody to vote multiple times in different locations.

While Washington’s system has worked well, lawmakers are wise to continue reviewing and refining that system. There always is room for improvement.

There also is room — and a need — for transparency and for informing a doubtful public about how elections work. The office of Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey works diligently to provide that information, and the trust that has been built was evident in November, when Kimsey was reelected with 67 percent of the vote.

Voting is the foundation of our political system, and enhancing accessibility while strengthening election security is essential to ensuring that system survives.

Self-serving lies about election outcomes are a threat to our democracy. Washington lawmakers are wise to respond to that threat by enhancing access rather than diminishing it.

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