Voting Rights FAQ

What is the Washington Voting Rights Act?
The Washington Voting Rights Act (WVRA) is a state bill to help ensure that every voter has an equal opportunity to elect the candidate of their choice. The WVRA empowers local governments to fix the widespread problem of voter exclusion in local elections.

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What is the problem the WVRA seeks to address?
Nearly all local elections in Washington use at-large voting systems. Where polarized voting exists, an at-large system prevents some voters from having a meaningful voice in local elections.

Imagine that a city elects 10 councilmembers at-large. If 60% of its voters prefer funding for parks in election after election, then only candidates who run on a platform to fund parks will win and occupy all 10 seats on the council – this is called “polarized voting” and can be documented via statistical analysis that is accepted by the courts.

So even if 40% of voters prefer funding for public safety because they live in a less safe area of town, their viewpoint has no representation on the council, and candidates have no incentive to consider that viewpoint.

But under the WVRA, that city would be empowered to change to a district-based system under which the 40% public safety minority could elect some candidates to the council to represent their viewpoint.

How will the WVRA help local governments?
The WVRA allows local governments to solve the problem of voter exclusion and avoid expensive federal litigation by proactively tailoring a local solution that fits their unique electoral picture. The WVRA also empowers local governments to take action to remedy voting problems before a citizen files a complaint.

Have other states passed similar legislation?
In 2002, California passed the California Voting Rights Act. Since then, the California VRA has worked to restore fairness where elections systems in localities have excluded minority communities. The WVRA is modeled on that successful legislation.

What are some examples of successful changes to election systems in Washington?
In 2015, two majority-Latino districts were created as part of Yakima’s new single-member district system for City Council elections. A federal judge ordered the City of Yakima to adopt a district voting system after the ACLU-WA successfully sued Yakima for violating the federal Voting Rights Act.

In 2016, the ACLU-WA sued the city of Pasco on behalf of Bertha Aranda Glatt, a longtime resident of Pasco, to ensure that the Latino community has a meaningful opportunity to elect representatives of their choice to the City Council. Soon after the lawsuit was filed, the City of Pasco admitted that its election system violated the Voting Rights Act. The new election system that was established as a result includes three majority-Latino districts.

Does Washington restore voting rights for people with felony convictions?
Yes. A person may lose the right to vote when convicted of a felony in adult court. This right is restored, however, when a person is no longer under the authority of the Department of Corrections (DOC). A person’s right to vote is restored automatically, even if they still owe fines, restitution, or other legal financial obligations (LFOs).

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Does Washington have automatic voter registration?
No. Even if you are eligible to vote, you cannot vote until you register. There are many ways to register, including in person at county auditor or elections office and in many other locations, including government offices such as the Department of Licensing (DOL), Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), and often local schools, libraries, and firehouses. You can also register online at, through the MyVote app on a smartphone, via mail, or with organizations like the League of Women Voters.

Does Washington have online voter registration?
Yes. Washington launched online voter registration in 2008. Eligible citizens with a state driver’s license or no-driver ID can register to vote and update their registration information online. You can register online to vote here.

Do you need an ID to register to vote in Washington?
No, you do not need an ID to register to vote.
  • You need a current Washington State driver’s license or a current Washington State ID card to register online.
  • However, if registering by mail or in person, you can use a current Washington State driver’s license, a current Washington State ID card, or your Social Security number.
  • You can still register if you do not have one of these forms of identification. You will just be required to provide one of the following items before you cast your ballot:
    • Valid photo ID
    • Valid tribal ID of a federally recognized Indian tribe in Washington State
    • Copy of a current utility bill
    • Current bank statement
    • Copy of a current government check
    • Copy of a current paycheck
    • A government document that shows both your name and address
It’s important that you provide one of the above items before or at the time of voting; if you do not, your ballot will not be counted. Please contact the Secretary of State’s office or your local elections office if you have any questions about registrations.

What are the general requirements for voter registration in Washington, and how do I register to vote?
In order to register in the state of Washington, you must be:
  • A citizen of the United States
  • A legal resident of Washington State
  • At least 18 years old by election day
  • Not under the authority of DOC; and
  • Not disqualified from voting due to a court order (e.g., some guardianships).
If you meet the above criteria, you can register by completing a voter registration form in person, online, or via mail. You will need to provide a valid mailing address in order to receive your ballot.

Will my personal information be made public if I register to vote?
Generally, your name, address, gender, and date of birth will be public information. There is an Address Confidentiality Program (ACP) which assists certain crime victims (specifically victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking and stalking, and certain criminal justice employees who have been targets of felony harassment on the job or due to the job) who have relocated to avoid further abuse. Information about this program can be found at

How are legislative and congressional districts drawn in Washington?
Legislative and congressional districts are redrawn in Washington after the federal census every 10 years. The Washington Redistricting Commission is composed of a committee of four appointees of the majority and minority leaders of the Washington State House and Senate and a fifth non-partisan member who serves as the non-voting chair. The Commission redistributes seats according to census results. The last redistricting took place in 2011, following the 2010 census.

How do I find out who my elected representatives are?
You can enter your street address into this online tool to find your legislative and congressional district. To find out who your local representatives are, go to your city and county websites.
  • At-large: A type of electoral jurisdiction where representatives are elected from the district as a whole (i.e. a city, county, state or nation).
  • Automatic voter registration: A system in which eligible citizens are automatically registered to vote unless they decline.
  • Disenfranchisement: The revocation of the right to vote.
  • District: The geographic area into which a city, state, or country is divided for elections. Single-winner districts elect one official whereas multi-winner districts elect two or more.
  • Electoral system: A set of rules and procedures that determines how elections are conducted and how their results are determined.
  • Gerrymandering: The manipulation of district boundary lines in order to advantage or disadvantage a candidate or political group. Gerrymandering is typically used to create a district that is favorable to an incumbent, advantage a particular party or political group to receive more seats than its proportion of the vote, or to conversely disenfranchise a group or party by weakening or dividing the subset of the electorate.
  • Issue forums: Public events held to foster community dialogue on certain events or issues. Elected officials or candidates for elected office are often invited to participate in discourse with the public.
  • Online voter registration: A system by which eligible citizens can register to vote online.
  • Polarized voting: Cases in which votes fall along racial lines; for example, if most white voters support a certain candidate and most Latino voters support another candidate.
  • Proportional representation: A group of voting systems used in many democracies whose major goal is to ensure that parties and political groups are allocated seats in legislative bodies in proportion to their share of the vote. For example, a party receiving 30% of the national vote should receive approximately 30% of the seats in the national legislature.
  • Redistricting: The process by which district boundaries are redrawn every 10 years, designed to ensure that Congress and state legislatures are representative.
  • Voter exclusion: Policies and strategies that discourage people from voting. Many states and local jurisdictions have laws that make it harder for certain groups – particularly black people, Latinos, the elderly, students, and people with disabilities – to select the candidate of their choice.
  • Voting Rights Act (federal): A historic civil rights law signed in 1965, permanently barring barriers to political participation by racial and ethnic minorities, prohibiting any election practice that denies the right to vote on account of race, and requiring jurisdictions with a history of discrimination in voting to get federal approval for changes in their election laws before they can take effect.
  • Voter roll: A list of persons who are eligible to vote in a particular area (such as a state or specific electoral district) and who are registered to vote.