Blue state wipes away residency requirement for voter registration

Months before the pivotal November elections, one blue state has already moved to eliminate a longstanding voter rule.

Washington State essentially wiped away a residency requirement for voter registration that had been in place since its original 1889 constitution. Washington Secretary of State Steve Hobbs removed the requirement “through agency rulemaking,” according to The Center Square.

“The rulemaking occurred after both Hobbs and state Attorney General Bob Ferguson agreed to a consent decree earlier this year to settle a 2023 lawsuit arguing that the constitutional provision violated federal law due to a 2018 state law,” the outlet noted.

A potential voter must be a resident of Washington for 30 days “immediately preceding the election at which they offer to vote,” according to Article VI, Section 1 of the Washington Constitution.

“However, a November 2023 lawsuit filed by the Washington State Alliance for Retired Americans argued that this residency requirement was in violation of the U.S. Voting Rights Act Amendments of 1970, which prohibits residency requirements for people to participate in federal elections. In 2018, the state Legislature enacted Senate Bill 6021, which allows Washington voters to register to vote as late as 8 p.m. on Election Day,” The Center Square reported.

This “pre-election durational residency requirement,” the lawsuit noted, “is longer than the registration deadline and…therefore prevents voters who could otherwise lawfully register and cast ballots from doing so just because they moved into the state, county or precinct too recently.”

The consent decree notes that “as a result of this change, Washington residents who have lived at a particular address longer than 30 days do not have to meet any durational limits to vote, while new residents must meet the 30-day Durational Residency Requirement.”

Dale Whittaker, a Republican candidate for secretary of state, is among the many voices criticizing the move.

“This Consent Decree is a backroom deal that bypasses the state constitution, legislature, and the citizens of Washington,” Whitaker said in a statement. “This is a power-grab by activists using the courts and willing supplicants to make wholesale changes to state election practices hoping it flies under the radar of public and legal scrutiny. The 30-day residency requirement is a constitutional mandate that cannot be disregarded, and the recent court action does just that.”

Kittitas County Auditor Bryan Elliot told Center Square that his “biggest concern is the rapid implementation of this change in a Presidential Election year. Our offices are agile, but this action has the potential to create further mistrust of the voter registration system, especially when state law and the state constitution both still contain language that is contrary to the consent decree.”

SOS Communications Manager Derrick Nunnally told the Center Square that “this agreement saved the state a costly and likely losing court fight over enforcing the 30-day residency requirement.”

 

Frieda Powers

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