A day before the student walkouts last week, high school senior and gun reform activist Emilia Allard addressed a crowd of Indivisible activists in front of downtown Seattle's Federal Building with a message for politicians.
"Four million youth, including myself, will be eligible to vote in the 2018 elections," she said. "We are watching, we are paying attention, and we are ready to vote you out."
Two of the biggest changes that could mobilize young people to vote in Washington State will be signed into law today. Governor Inslee will sign a piece of legislation passed by the state legislature allowing 16- and 17-year-olds the ability to pre-register to vote. (Twelve states and the District of Columbia already do the same, though nine more states offer pre-registration for 17-year-olds alone.)* The governor will also sign into law an automatic voter registration bill that requires the Department of Licensing to register someone with an enhanced driver's license or ID card when they receive their license, renew it, or change their address.
Not only that: The pre-registration law additionally requires social studies teachers to set up voter registration events in classes attended by seniors. The state superintendent of public instruction will also be required to distribute voter registration packets for eligible students.
Legislators attempted to pass a similar bill before the 2016 presidential election, but it died in committee. This year, the bill passed the state Senate, with 27 "yeas" to 22 senators dissenting.
The Spokesman Review's Jim Camden looked at some of the arguments against the legislation, which included typical red herrings about the possibility of voter fraud. One Republican senator "mocked" the law, Camden wrote, by saying that the state should mail out voter pre-registration packets to babies at birth.
Governor Inslee will also sign two more major voting rights feats into law this afternoon: same-day voter registration and the Washington State Voting Rights Act. Under the new Voting Rights Act, local governments can be sued for failing to create electoral systems that sufficiently represent historically marginalized and minority-majority neighborhoods. As the Seattle Times editorial board notes, the law could change the political landscape in places similar to Pasco and Yakima, where, despite the fact that Latino voters have made up a third of the population, Latino candidates were consistently undermined until ACLU lawsuits forced the cities to change their voting systems.
*This post initially linked to a Brennan Center page stating that only 14 states offered pre-registration. That was wrong!