OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee recently signed the Native American Voting Rights Act, which allows the residential address portion of a voter registration form to be filled out with a nontraditional address.
The new law will “allow tribal members to help us form a more perfect union and make good decisions about our destiny,” said Inslee at the Thursday ceremony.
The bill passed the Senate Feb. 6 with 34 in favor, 13 opposed and two excused. All 13 senators in opposition were Republicans; however, Minority Leader Mark Schoesler, R- Ritzville, and other Republicans voted in support.
The state House of Representatives passed an amended version of the bill with a 95-3 vote March 5. House members voting against were Reps. Bob McCaslin, R-Spokane Valley, Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, and Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley.
“This legislation provides us the opportunity to remove those barriers to be able to call to the Native Americans and tell them they matter,” said Rep. Debra Lekanoff, D-Bow.
Lekanoff is the first Native American woman elected to the House. She previously worked for the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community.
“The excitement of an aunty going down to pick up her ballot with her little granddaughter and going to the kitchen table and filling it out and walking just another half a block and dropping it in a drop box, on the reservation, in the middle of our America is wonderful for me,” Lekanoff said.
“We welcome everyone to participate in our electoral process,” said Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, in support of the bill.
The passed amendment, proposed by Walsh, requires that a tribe’s ballot box must be accessible to the county auditor via a public road.
The Native American Voting Rights Act modifies the minimum information required for voter registration under state law, to allow for “unmarked homes” and “a nontraditional residential address may be used when a voter resides on an Indian reservation or on Indian lands.”
The act also allows voters to list a building designated by the tribe in their precinct as their residential address, if need be.
The House State Government and Tribal Relations Committee amended the bill to let tribes choose a building, which is not a ballot pick-up location, to be used for mailing address purposes only. The amendment made other minor changes.
With Inslee’s signature of the bill, the Native American Voting Rights Acts was the second bill signed into law in the 2019 session.
This story is part of a series of news reports from the Washington State Legislature provided through a reporting internship sponsored by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation.