I went to a training last night (sponsored by Win-Win Network) to be a volunteer for Voter Registration. I was a volunteer registrar in Texas for several years, and I was interested (and super pleased) with the way Washington handles their voting and voter registration. We can’t discuss individual candidates or parties, but we can talk about issues (Food Stamps, Faithful Budget, etc.)
In the first place, Washington votes by mail. A couple of weeks before the election, the state mails you your ballot, along with a nice pamphlet explaining any ballot initiatives and containing a picture and a couple of paragraphs about each candidate (that they have submitted themselves). Then, any time you want to you can sit down with whatever literature you want, or ask whoever you want whatever questions you have, and you fill out your ballot in the privacy of your own home. Then sign your ballot, stick a stamp on it, and mail it back, or drop it off in any of the conveniently located drop boxes around the area. Your ballot just has to be postmarked or in the drop box by 5:00 p.m. on election day.
To register there’s a simple form to fill out that asks for name, birthday, residence address, and either your Washington driver’s license number, or the last four digits of your social security number. Then you check the box that says your are a resident, and sign and date the form.
If you were registered before, and now have a different address, you use the same form to change your address. You also use that form to change your name (like if you got married, or divorced and want to use your maiden name).
There are also a couple of really nice wrinkles:
- If you are a college student, you can put your residence either at your regular home or at college. And you can put down a different address as where you want to receive your mail. So if someone wants to vote in Tacoma where their parents live, and they want to get their ballot mailed to Bellingham where they are going to school, that’s okay. They just put a separate mailing address on the form.
- If you are homeless (or mobile) as are so many clients of the food banks where we will be registering people, you give a physical address, and then you can have your ballot mailed to the food bank or the shelter or a PO Box.
- If you aren’t 18 years old yet, but will be by election day, you can go ahead and register.
- You self-certify that you are a citizen and eligible to vote (there’s a fine for perjury), but at the time of registration I don’t have to worry about it. And felons who have served their time (including any parole) are eligible to vote.
- If you are under an order of protection because of domestic violence or the like, and you don’t want to put down your address (because voter registration is a matter of public record), then there’s a phone number to call so you can still vote, but your address is kept confidential.
It’s such a breath of fresh air to see that Washington WANTS their citizens to vote, especially after the way Texas is making it harder and harder.
One more reason I’m eternally grateful that we moved.