Comment: Legislation can improve elections, build confidence

Washington can be proud of its election systems, but there’s always opportunity for improvement.

By Keith Wagoner / For The Herald

Unfortunately, the topic of elections is a “trigger” to both ends of the political spectrum. This hampers meaningful communication on how best to preserve and improve our voting system.

I believe there is plenty of room in the middle for constructive, incremental improvements that will keep our voting system evolving in a positive direction for all our citizens, but only if we consciously retract our ideological claws and work toward outcomes we can all agree upon.

Elections are the bedrock of our representative democracy. As legislators, we need to have the courage to address questions and fears, whether real or imagined, in a way that promotes understanding and improves confidence. Washington state has worked hard to make voting easy and accessible, but to think we have achieved some sort of voter nirvana or election perfection is naïve and perhaps dangerous. Just as our personal computers’ software require periodic updates or our vehicles need tune-ups, so too should our election system be constantly and comprehensively re-evaluated and improved.

I personally have a high degree faith in the system, and I want all Washingtonians to have that same level of confidence. But that cannot be forced; confidence must be earned. That’s why I introduced Senate Bill 5679, the Washington Voter Confidence Act, which proposes a practical combination of better tools for auditors, safer practices for voters, and data gathering to inform policy improvements. It’s a small but needed step in the right direction.

Ironically, at a time when increased dialog is needed more than ever, Gov. Jay Inslee has introduced a constitutionally questionable “hush your mouth” bill, Senate Bill 5843. If enacted, this legislation will criminalize free speech on the topic of elections if the state determines counter opinions to be false. The governor also proposes millions of dollars in funding to re-educate the public. These policies set up a dysfunctional and abusive relationship between government and citizens, further eroding voter confidence.

Failing to build confidence alienates voters, resulting in self-suppression across the spectrum. Let’s keep the conversations free and fair, just as we want our elections and earn voter confidence instead of demanding it.

State Sen. Keith Wagoner, R-Sedro-Woolley, represents the 39th Legislative District.

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