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Mandatory voting proposal draws out election fraud fears

A proposal to make voting mandatory drew criticisms from 2,000 people in a legislative hearing Jan. 25.

“We are already in a moment of extreme distrust in elections, so you should not be doing anything to further that perception,” said Sharon Damoff.

Lawmakers mainly dismissed the large number of people signing on to testify, as they believe one organization was responsible. 

“The election deniers have ramped up this year,” Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, said. “Conservative Ladies of Washington, they’ve got these mass emails asking people to sign up.”

Hunt is supporting a bill to make voting mandatory. The proposal was introduced last year but died in committee.

SB5209 requires all eligible voters to register to vote and return their ballots, with two main exceptions.

If eligible voters do not wish to register to vote, they can submit a waiver without any excuse or explanation. County auditors would be in charge of reviewing waivers. 

Also, registered voters may return a blank ballot. They do not have to choose a candidate or fill anything in. They are just required to send it back. This was primarily put in place to address concerns of people not wanting to vote for any candidates or initiatives on a ballot.

People who opposed mandatory voting expressed a number of broad criticisms. They worried uninformed people would not take it seriously, that illegal immigrants might be able to vote, that blank ballots could somehow be manipulated or that the process could encourage “ballot harvesting.”

Hunt emphasized that ballots would go only to eligible voters who were registered.

Alongside the civic duty voting bill is a voter verification bill, SB6269. It sets up a pilot project to test other options for ballot verification other than signatures. County auditors can opt into this and suggest other forms of verification to test, but participation is not required.

If approved, the test would be conducted over the next four years. The secretary of state would be required to submit results in 2028.


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