Elected officials could no longer spread false electoral information

Elected officials who make false claims and declarations about election results could soon face criminal charges in Washington state, under a new bill.

Gov. Jay Inslee testified before the Senate Committee on Government and State Elections on Friday, speaking in support of the legislation his office is seeking.

“I think after January 6, we need to ask this question: Do politicians think they have the right to foment violence and degrade our democracy by knowingly lying about election results?” Inslee said. “No, they don’t.”

Inslee said the legislation is “pro-democracy” and would hold politicians accountable. He said he believed the bill was neutral and was drafted to protect the First Amendment. He first proposed the bill earlier this month at a press conference, but the bill had not yet been drafted at the time.

“The big lie that we can’t trust our democracy to count votes has become a weapon and that weapon is being used all over America, including right here in our state, and it will incite violence again,” did he declare.

Under the law, elected officials, or even candidates who have already filed their candidacy, could face a misdemeanor charge for spreading false claims about the legitimacy of an election if it incites violence from others. or if it is intended to incite violence.

False statements by elected officials about entitlement to a particular office after election results show otherwise could also result in a felony charge.

Officials or candidates found guilty of maliciously disseminating claims could face fines of up to $5,000, up to 364 days in jail and dismissal.

So far, the bill has drawn heavy criticism from politicians and those who do not believe the bill is constitutional.

The bill’s report refers to the landmark Supreme Court case Brandenburg v. Ohio as precedent. Incendiary speech can only be punished if it leads to incitement to violence, the court ruled. Inslee has also mentioned at previous press conferences that he thinks Brandenburg is a decent backbone to support the constitutionality of the proposed legislation.

Catherine Ross, a constitutional scholar at George Washington University, testified before the committee that she helped draft the bill’s language to ensure constitutionality and address “First Amendment issues.” She said she first heard about the bill when she read a Washington Post article in which Inslee drew on her writing to support her position.

The legislation is sponsored by Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle. He testified that he never imagined that democracy would face such a huge crisis.

“It’s about whether the legitimacy of our elections is going to be upheld by the rule of law or crushed under the feet of the mob,” Frockt said. “It’s not a place we should be going as a society, as a country, and it’s not what our founders envisioned.”

Several people also testified against the legislation during the hearing.

Paul Guppy, vice president for research at the Washington Policy Center, said the way the bill is drafted “undermines the standards of our democracy.”

“It doesn’t increase trust and the outcome of the election, it actually creates more suspicion when people aren’t allowed to honestly debate the outcome of the election,” Guppy said.

If passed, the bill will come into force 90 days after the adjournment of the legislative session.

This story was originally published January 29, 2022 1:57 p.m.

Shauna Sowersby was a freelancer for several local and national publications before joining McClatchy’s North West Newspapers covering the Legislative Assembly.

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