As we enter the final few weeks leading up to the U.S. Presidential election on November 3rd, the question of who has the legal right and access to cast a vote is front and center. The United States has a long history of actively suppressing the voting rights of its populace, and while many laws and policies have changed over the years that franchise long-excluded Americans, many others remain.
For example, Washington law prohibits people with felony convictions from voting not only while they are in prison, but also while they are living in the community on probation or on parole. This impacts over 10,000 Washingtonians. Voting rights can also be suspended for felons who owe legal financial obligations (LFOs) and aren’t able to make on time payments. Bills to expand voting rights to individuals with felony convictions who are living under supervision in the community have been introduced the last two years, but have yet to pass the legislature.
Overall, Washington has very strong protections for voters that lead to high voter engagement. In the 2016 general election, 83% of Washingtonians who were eligible to vote in the election had registered, and 65.7% of registered voters cast a ballot.
Washington state consistently ranks among the highest in the nation for voter registration and turnout. Additionally, sweeping reform passed in 2018 that improves access to the ballot for millions of Washingtonians, including pre-registration for 16- and 17-year olds, Election Day registration, and automatic (or “opt-out”) registration for those with Enhanced Driver’s Licenses.
Despite these protections, voter suppression and confusion remains a reality in our state. Here are some examples of what to look out for:
- USPS mailers were sent with incorrect information. These postcards were sent out nationally, but some of their recommendations do not apply to Washington voters. In Washington, everyone who is registered is automatically sent a vote-by-mail ballot. Additionally, stamps are not required.
- Removal of mail processing machines. Washington post offices are well-prepared for the massive increase in mail activity during our 18-day voting period, but a reduction in resources doesn’t help! But for a limited number of voters, ballots may not arrive on time. Turn in your ballots early or drop them in an official drop box (locations can be found on your country websites).
- Rejected ballots. Washington uses several security measures to ensure that votes cast in our elections are valid. Sometimes these security measures result in valid votes cast by eligible voters being discarded. (In the 2016 general election, only 1.0% of returned ballots were not counted.)
The most common reason that ballots are rejected is for non-matching signatures. If you are concerned that your signature may have changed since you registered or last updated it, you can update your signature here! It is not necessarily the same as the signature on your driver’s license. Do your best to make sure your signature on your ballot matches what is on file! County election officials will call, email, and send you a letter in the mail if your signature does not match, so keep a look out after you send in your ballot. You can also track your ballot online at your county website or on MyVote.
- VoteWA.gov – Register to vote online!
- 2020 Election Voter’s Guide – including accessible, audio, video, and translated versions
- Links to county election offices - https://www.sos.wa.gov/elections/auditors/
- Washington Voting Justice Coalition - https://wavotingjustice.org/