Sen. Yasmin Trudeau (D-Tacoma) announced that she will be sponsoring two policies during the 2022 legislative session that will protect and strengthen Washington state’s democratic systems.

SB 5584 would allow local jurisdictions to use a system of ranked choice voting in local elections, which would help increase participation and representation. SB 5583 would end local jurisdictions’ use of “prison gerrymandering,” or the practice of counting incarcerated individuals as residents of the district in which they are imprisoned rather than at their last known residential address.

These are the first bills Trudeau has filed since her tenure as state senator for Washington’s 27th Legislative District began on Nov. 2.

“When it comes to increasing access to the ballot box and making our democracy more representative and more fair, I’m standing on the shoulders of giants and following the lead of our communities,” said Trudeau. “Making it easier to vote and building a democratic system that includes all of us is work that Washington state has been leading for decades. With these two bills, we continue that forward momentum.”

SB 5584 would allow local jurisdictions to give voters the option to rank their favorite candidates in order of preference through a system called Ranked Choice Voting (RCV). RCV has been adopted with bipartisan support by an increasing number of cities, counties and states around the United States and has proven to be an effective tool to address several problems with the current winner-take-all election process.

By allowing local jurisdictions to use RCV if they choose, SB 5584 would increase civility and reduce polarization in local elections, and would also promote more choices and greater diversity on the ballot for voters. RCV fosters more positive and productive campaigns because it encourages candidates to reach out even to voters who might pick another candidate as their first choice. RCV also promotes diversity and results in more women and minoritized candidates winning elected office because voters can vote for candidates they really want without having to think first about electability or worrying they’ll “throw away their vote.”

“As we see political polarization and voter suppression hurting communities all across the country, Washington could continue to be a bold leader – in unity over hyperpartisanship, and in voter access over disenfranchisement,” Trudeau said. “Allowing local governments to choose to implement RCV will be an important example of that leadership.”

SB 5583 would also improve equity in Washington state’s democracy by ensuring that city and county redistricting processes align with state and congressional redistricting by counting incarcerated individuals at their last known residence, rather than at the prison or institution where they reside at the time of redistricting. The bill directs cities and counties to use the same data currently used for state and congressional redistricting following the enactment of SB 5287, a bill sponsored and passed by now-retired Sen. Jeannie Darneille (D-Tacoma), which ended prison gerrymandering in congressional and state redistricting.  SB 5583 would do the same for city and county redistricting.

Prison gerrymandering has historically increased representation for Washington’s rural communities at the expense of historically marginalized communities that are over-represented in the state’s prison population. The effect of prison gerrymandering has inflated population totals and political representation for communities in which the disproportionately nonwhite prison population has been forcibly relocated, while decreasing representation and funding for the communities they call home.

“My predecessor, Senator Darneille, has left an incredible legacy of access to justice and access to the ballot box for communities across the state,” said Trudeau. “With her leadership, we’re continuing to ensure that all communities get the political representation and the resources they deserve – and ending political gerrymandering at every level of government is a critical part of that work.”

The text of the bills will be available here in the coming days.