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Ranker presses for automatic voter registration for eligible voters

OLYMPIA — Many Washingtonians would be automatically registered to vote, under legislation co-sponsored by Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island.

“No one would be registered who doesn’t want to be registered, but registration will become much easier for those who wish to be,” Ranker said. “Voting is one of the most fundamental rights of all Americans. It should be a given, not an obstacle course.”

Under Senate Bill 6379, eligible voters who have enhanced driver’s licenses or commercial driver’s licenses, or who are covered through the state Health Benefits Exchange or other relevant state entities, will be automatically registered since their citizenship has already been verified by the state.

Those with regular driver’s licenses will not be registered automatically because the state Department of Licensing does not require proof of citizenship or legal presence. The bill also provides an opt-out opportunity for those who decline to be registered.

“While our state is a leader in so many things, we are struggling to get Washingtonians to cast ballots and have their voices heard,” said Sen. Pramila Jayapal, a Seattle Democrat who is the bill’s prime sponsor. “We have worked very hard over the past several months to develop a bipartisan piece of legislation that fits Washington’s particular needs.”

Ranker noted that 2015 saw one of the lowest election turnouts in state history, as fewer than 40 percent of eligible voters went to the polls. But studies indicate that automatic voter registration can boost the number of registered voters and voter participation.

“This bill will also reduce paperwork and streamlines the registration process, enabling agencies to integrate voter registration services into existing forms and online prompts,” Ranker said, adding that voters’ addresses would not be subject to public disclosure in accordance with existing law.