Washington Enacts Improvement To State Voting Rights Act
WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Thursday, April 13, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) signed House Bill 1048, which will expand and improve the enforcement mechanisms of the Washington Voting Rights Act (WVRA). In light of the U.S. Supreme Court weakening the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA) over the past decade, Washington enacted the WVRA in 2018 as a way for voters to challenge discriminatory voting practices in local government. H.B. 1048 builds upon this law to further empower voters and improve enforcement mechanisms in the Act.
The law instructs courts to construe all election laws and administrative orders in favor of “[p]rotecting the right to cast an effective ballot” and ensuring all voters have equal access to the ballot box. In adjusting the remedy process, the law notes that the courts “may not give deference to a proposed remedy only because it is proposed by the political subdivision.”
Additionally, H.B. 1048 expands who has the right to sue to include Native American tribes and coalitions of multiple racial or language groups, revises certain definitions in the WVRA and more. The changes will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024.
Several successful lawsuits and settlements have taken place under the WVRA, including one in Franklin County, Washington. However, a local GOP official intervened in that lawsuit and is now asking the Washington Supreme Court to declare the entire WVRA unconstitutional. The Washington Supreme Court will hear oral argument on May 11, 2023.
In addition to Washington, four other states — California, New York, Oregon and Virginia — have enacted state-level VRAs. At least four more states are looking to enact one this session: Connecticut, Maryland, Michigan and New Jersey.