(By TJ Martinell, The Center Square) Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has signed Senate Bill 5459 into law, which restricts the public from obtaining records regarding ballots and the election system, as well as centralizes all local records requests with the Secretary of State’s office.
At the May 9 bill signing, Inslee said the bill would help the state “better protect our election security” by withholding information from the public that would “increase risk to the integrity of elections.”
The bill exempts cast ballots from public records requests. Although not specifically among the 500 other exemptions under the Public Records Act, or PRA, courts had previously ruled against their release.
Inslee said this exemption “protects the privacy of all registered voters, keeping our elections safe and secure. [I’m] glad we’re a state that cares about these matters.”
SB 5459 will also centralize all public records requests submitted to the county auditor with SOS if the request concerns the statewide voter registration database. The SOS maintains that database.
Also exempt from public access are any records of the system infrastructure for at least 25 years if the contractor says releasing the records would put the system at risk.
The bill passed overwhelmingly in the Senate, with just four senators opposed. However, the House vote was along party lines. Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, tweeted that they “had a long discussion about this in caucus and came away strongly opposed.”
In a separate tweet, he described the legislation as “terrible,” adding that the strong support in the opposite chamber was because “[the] Senate may have believed ‘it’ll prevent insurrection’ rhetoric. Or maybe ‘it’s just protecting proprietary code’ rhetoric. If you read the bill, you can see it’s more likely to CAUSE insurrection.”
Also opposed to the bill is Washington Coalition for Open Government President Emeritus Toby Nixon, who also sits on the Kirkland City Council. In an email to The Center Square speaking for himself and not WCOG, Nixon described the bill as “a huge overreaction to public records requests made by Trump supporters after the 2020 election, who had been convinced that there was fraud. There is NO legitimate reason for any of this information to be secret. There is only the fear of election officials of the amount of work it takes to produce the records.”
“In my opinion, this rush to hide even more of how elections are conducted just reduces trust,” he wrote. “Transparency is important. If it were up to me, our elections would be more transparent, not less.”
WCOG President Mike Fancher did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication. The Washington Association of County Auditors also did not respond to request for comment by the time of publication.