OLYMPIA - Surrounded by tribal leaders from across the state - including Colville Business Council chair Rodney Cawston and CBC members Norma Sanchez and Margie Hutchinson - Governor Jay Inslee signed into law, Thursday, legislation aimed at overcoming barriers that prevent tribal members from voting in state and national elections.
Gov. Inslee called the legislation “another step toward a more perfect union.”
“We are such a rich state. We are rich with our tribal communities that have helped build a state that is so culturally rich and dynamic, and we are rich in our philosophy,” said Gov. Inslee. “Our philosophy is different than some other places in the country. In some other places in the country, folks think if you restrict the right to vote good things will happen. We think the opposite in the state of Washington. We believe the more voices, the more wisdom.”
Tulalip tribal member, state senator John McCoy, D-38th, sponsored the bill in the senate.
“One of the things I am continuing to work on is improving the relationship between the state and tribes, and things have gotten better but we still have a lot of work today,” said McCoy. “We’ve done a lot of good work, but we need to continue doing that and be able to keep this relationship up and ensure that everybody’s voice is heard at the polling. This will help ensure that everybody has the chance to submit their ballot and get it counted.”
Tlingit tribal member, Rep. Debra Lekanoff, D-Samish Island, sponsored the companion bill in the House.
“Today, we are removing barriers for the first Americans, who were the last Americans to get voting rights,” said Lekanoff. “We are here today in Washington state, standing together to say, ‘What can we do better?’ Today, removing the barriers for Native Americans is that first step. We all matter. Every vote matters. Every vote matters to Washington state.”
The new law will require county auditors to establish a drop box on reservations when requested by tribes, permit the use of nontraditional addresses on voter registration and allow use of tribal identification for electronic voter registration.
The law will also allow the state attorney general the ability to sue counties “for failure to establish a tribally-requested ballot drop box or collect ballots from a tribally-designated pickup and collection point.”
ATNI chair Leonard Forsman, Suquamish, said the law “will eliminate barriers that prevent tribes from exercising their right to vote as citizens” and further noted, “Of course we have seen where the restrictions on voting across the nation and in other parts of the country has affected Indian Country, and we are glad to see that Washington state step forward to see that that doesn’t happen here in anyway.”
Forsman noted voting restrictions enforced in North Dakota in 2018 related to non-traditional addresses.
In past elections, Ferry County has placed drop boxes at the San Poil Community Health Center in Keller and the Lake Roosevelt Community Health Center in Inchelium, though in August, the Spokesman-Review reported ballots deposited during the 2018 primary election the county auditor failed to collect ballots the drop boxes in Inchelium and Keller (along with ballots in drop boxes in Curlew and Danville) until a week after election day.
Okanogan County has placed a drop box at the Coulee Dam City Hall.