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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Major Changes Coming To Voting Rights, Access In Washington

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network

Sixteen and 17-year-olds will soon be able to pre-register to vote in Washington. That’s just one of several voting-related bills the governor is scheduled to sign into law Monday.

Washington will join states like California, Oregon and Utah that already allow teens as young as 16 to pre-register to vote. Gov. Jay Inslee will also sign bills allowing for same-day voter registration and to allow customers of the state’s Health Benefit Exchange to automatically register to vote.

In addition, Inslee will sign into law a state Voting Rights Act that advocates have been fighting for for years. It allows members of a protected class of voters to bring a legal challenge if they feel their votes are being diluted by at-large elections.

This was an issue in the city of Yakima a few years ago where Latinos comprise 40 percent of the population, but held no seats on the city council. After a lawsuit forced a shift to district-based elections, three Latinos were elected to the council.

Finally, Inslee will sign a bill known as the DISCLOSE act designed to shed light on so-called “dark money” in politics. It will require all nonprofit organizations that spend $25,000 or more on campaigns and elections to file reports with the state’s Public Disclosure Commission.

Supporters say it will lead to greater transparency in campaign spending by non-profits that don’t have a separate political committee. Opponents counter it’s an effort to muzzle free speech.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."