The Fix is In: Washington State Abolishes Residency Requirement for Voter Registration

The Fix is In: Washington State Abolishes Residency Requirement for Voter Registration



By Jim Hᴏft


The state of Washington has effectively abolished its long-standing residency requirement for voter registration.


The Center Square reports that through agency rulemaking, Hobbs’ office has removed a provision that has been a part of Washington’s electoral framework since the state’s original 1889 Constitution.


This move follows a consent decree earlier this year, settling a 2023 lawsuit that claimed the residency requirement violated federal law, due to a 2018 state law.


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Article VI, Section 1 of the Washington Constitution mandated that a person must be a resident of the state for 30 days before the election to register to vote.


However, the Washington State Alliance for Retired Americans filed a lawsuit in November 2023, arguing that this requirement was in violation of the U.S. Voting Rights Act Amendments of 1970, which prohibits residency requirements for federal elections.


The lawsuit claimed that this “pre-election durational residency requirement” — which voters must attest to satisfying on voter registration forms — “is longer than the registration deadline and…therefore prevents voters who could otherwise lawfully register and cast ballots from doing so just because they moved into the state, county or precinct too recently.”


The plaintiff contends that Washington’s durational residency requirement disenfranchises voters who move to the state or within the state (to a new county or precinct) fewer than 30 days before Election Day.


As a result, these individuals are barred from voting in the upcoming election and cannot elect state or local officials who would represent their current residence. This regulation is crucial for maintaining the fairness of our elections and preventing voter fraud.


In response, the state Legislature passed Senate Bill 6021 in 2018, allowing voters to register as late as 8 p.m. on Election Day.


“Voter registrations submitted electronically or through the mail must be received eight days before an election for a person to be eligible to participate in that election. Voter registrations may be submitted in-person at the county auditor’s office, county elections office, or another location designated by the county auditor up to 8:00 p.m. the day of the election for a person to participate in that election. A person may update their voter registration information up to 8:00 p.m. the day of the election.”


The consent decree now states that Washington residents who have lived at a particular address for longer than 30 days no longer need to meet any durational limits to vote, while new residents still had to meet the 30-day requirement.


This decree stipulated the removal of the residency requirement not just for federal elections, but for state elections as well, unless the state imposes a new durational registration requirement by August 1, according to The Center Square.


Despite the constitutional mandate, the Secretary of State’s rulemaking session on June 25 adopted the change, eliminating the need for voters to attest to a 30-day residency. An archival capture from June 13 revealed that the SOS voter registration form had already been updated to reflect this change.


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The change has drawn criticism from some political candidates, including Dale Whittaker running for SOS as a Republican. In a post on his campaign website he wrote that “the Consent Decree is a backroom deal that bypasses the state constitution, legislature, and the citizens of Washington.


This is a power-grab by activists using the courts and willing supplicants to make wholesale changes to state election practices hoping it flies under the radar of public and legal scrutiny. The 30-day residency requirement is a constitutional mandate that cannot be disregarded, and the recent court action does just that.”


Kittitas County Auditor Bryan Elliot wrote in an email to The Center Square that “my biggest concern is the rapid implementation of this change in a Presidential Election year.


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Our offices are agile, but this action has the potential to create further mistrust of the voter registration system, especially when state law and the state constitution both still contain language that is contrary to the consent decree.”


“Additionally, there are more changes needed than just updating the voter registration form, which are already provided free of charge to counties,” he wrote further.


“We will also need to update and replace our confirmation and acknowledgement notices to voters which all contain references to the 30-day residency requirement. This will be an unbudgeted expense for my county that we will need to prioritize to comply with the ruling.”