Olympia–A new proposal sponsored by Sen. Sam Hunt (D-Olympia) and Rep. Sharlett Mena (D-Tacoma) would make voting a civic duty. Universal civic duty voting (SB 5209/HB 1220) would require eligible voters to register and submit a ballot. The proposal would allow voters to obtain a waiver for registering to vote and allow voters to submit a full, partial, or even blank ballot.

“The foundation of our democratic form of government relies on voting,” said Hunt. “It is essential to accurate representation. While other states are pushing for voter suppression, Washington is searching for ways to empower our communities to do their civic duty. Universal voting is a concept in which ensures Americans would vote, just like getting a driver’s licenses, paying taxes, or serving on juries. This concept isn’t new.”

Australia is among several countries to have implemented universal voting. After having done so in 1924, Australia’s voter participation rate went from 60% to 90%. In 2019, the country saw a 91.9% voter turnout.

In the last several years, the Washington State Legislature has passed the Washington Voting Rights Act and legislation that allows voter pre-registration, same-day registration, and automatic registration. Despite having a robust and secure vote-by-mail system, Washington struggles to maintain high voter turnout in non-presidential years.

“The goal of the Universal Voting bill is to achieve a truly representative democracy,” said Mena. “This bill acknowledges that government has a long way to go to meet voters where they are and enfranchise historically marginalized communities. With this legislation, we begin a serious conversation about how to achieve voting justice through 100 percent democracy.”

Under the proposal, the Secretary of State is required to implement a plan for expanded voter registration in the state, including a statewide education plan on the implementation of universal civic duty voting before the 2026 primary. Statewide education must be conducted in multiple languages using a variety of media sources.

“Having every eligible voter participate in elections would create an environment that values every voter and fully reflects the views and values of the population, said Miles Rapoport, co-author of the book 100% Democracy: The Case for Universal Voting. “Universal voting has been working in Australia for 100 years, with voter participation rates of 90%. I congratulate Washington for leading the way on this important national discussion.”

The bill is scheduled to be heard in the Senate State Government and Elections Committee on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023 at 1:30 p.m.