OLYMPIA — A bill to ensure there’s a clear process for challenging voter registrations cleared the Senate floor with unanimous support Wednesday. It would also ensure no one is wrongly removed from the voting rolls or is led to believe they are not entitled to vote.

In the summer, U.S. Navy Captain Mehdi Akacem received an official-looking letter in the mail stating he was in violation of Washington state law for living on a Maryland military base and not where he was registered to vote. The Messenger reported Akacem has a home in Washington and votes in state elections by absentee ballot. Service members are legally allowed to vote in their state of residence, even if their military base is somewhere else.

Senate Bill 5856, sponsored by Sen. Sam Hunt (D-Olympia), seeks to ensure people like Akacem are not misled. It also makes clear you are not required to respond to letters from private groups inquiring about your voter registration status like the one Akacem received.

“After looking at this loophole, I think this is a very good way to guarantee a challenge is correct and nobody is incorrectly removed from the rolls,” said Hunt. “Recently, I received a phone call from Captain Akacem thanking me for introducing the bill. He said 5856 makes him feel that his right to vote is protected and secure.”

The bill would require voter eligibility challenges based on residence to use a form provided by the Secretary of State, and specify that inactive voters are not subject to a voter eligibility challenge. It also establishes a 10-day timeline for a county auditor to determine if a voter eligibility challenge is in proper form and has a legal and factual basis, among other things.

“There’s a place for voter registration challenges, and we’ve had many that have served a very good purpose,” said Thurston County Auditor Mary Hall, who testified in support of the bill. “It’s a process that should remain vital and open to all voters, but as we’ve learned in Thurston County, it can be cumbersome when we’re processing challenges numbering in the dozens rather than the typical one or two a year.”

The bill now heads to the House for consideration.