Washington voters can now register online with partial social security number

The bill takes effect on July 15.

Published: May 22, 2023 11:00pm

(The Center Square) -

A bill passed this session by the Washington Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee allows people to register online to vote in the state by providing the last four digits of a Social Security Number and an electronic signature.

It's a process proponents say will make it easier for people to register or pre-register if they're not yet 18, while detractors argue it makes the election system open to fraud or compromise people's private information to cyberattacks.

Speaking on the House floor prior to the April 10 vote, Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, told colleagues that under the bill, "somebody in another state...can use the last four digits of their Social Security number or maybe a Social Security number that they stole, use an address in the state of Washington, and be able to register to vote."

Washington already adheres to a "presumptive right" to vote in which a person registering is considered eligible unless proven otherwise. Residents can register with the Secretary of State's Office, or they can initiate that process through the state Department of Licensing when registering for a driver's license. Although DOL does not verify proof of eligibility, an enhanced driver's license requires proof of citizenship. Under new state law, anyone registering for such a license is automatically registered to vote.

Under SB 5208, a person can now register to vote online using just the last four digits of a Social Security number, along with a signature. Sen. Yasmin Trudeau, D-Tacoma, told colleagues prior to the Senate's Feb. 1 vote that the bill "is permissive, it's not mandatory, but it does actually help. [It's a] broader bill in the sense that it will help many folks who really have access issues and want to participate in our democracy but can't get to a voting center."

Rep. Bill Ramos, D-Issaquah, said on April 10 on the Senate floor that "this is just adding easier access to online registration, but still having to verify with your signature."

However, Abbarno and other legislators argued that it's inappropriate to use Social Security numbers as a form of identification. Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, cited the Social Security Administration's website, which states:

The SSN is the single most widely used record identifier for both government and the private sector, exerting a broad influence on the lives of most Americans. However, by itself, it is not a personal identifier because it lacks systematic assignment to every person and the means to authenticate a person's identity.

Abbarno also argued that the online signature isn't sufficient to ensure ballot integrity. "Signatures provided electronically are not as reliable, not as accurate. People sign them very differently on a screen."

Rep. Leonard Christian, R-Spokane Valley, warned colleagues the bill could lead to voter fraud by having people in other states register to vote using their Social Security number and the address of a relative who lives in Washington. "If they live out of state, what are you going to do to prosecute?"

The bill takes effect on July 15.

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