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Washington's Democratic Governor Wants to Regulate Lying About Elections

AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced his intentions to legislatively prohibit candidates and elected officials from spewing lies about elections if such remarks are likely to incite violence.

The governor's announcement of the proposed legislation came on Thursday, the anniversary of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Inslee said that the events that unfolded on Jan. 6, 2021, along with remarks from public officials questioning the legitimacy of the 2020 election, prompted him to want to implement such legislation, which, as it currently stands, has yet to be written.

"January 6 is a reminder not only of the insurrection that happened one year ago, but that there is an ongoing coup attempt by candidates and elected officials to overturn our democracy," Inslee said in a statement. "They are willing to do this by provoking violence, and today I proposed we do something about that in Washington."

"Soon, legislation will be introduced in the state House and Senate that would make it a gross misdemeanor for candidates and elected officials to knowingly lie about elections," he continued. "The proposed law is narrowly tailored to capture only those false statements that are made for the purpose of undermining the election process or results and is further limited to lies that are likely to incite or cause lawlessness."

Acknowledging that his law likely would be unconstitutional as false statements are protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, Inslee pointed to Brandenburg v. Ohio, a 1969 Supreme Court case in which the court ruled that speech "inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action" is not protected under the First Amendment.

"This legislation attempts to follow the relevant U.S. and state supreme court opinions on this issue. We’re talking about candidates and elected officers knowingly throwing bombs at democracy itself when doing so is likely to result in violence," Inslee said. "We can outlaw actions that provoke political violence and in doing so also protect our democracy. There is more that can be done by states and Congress to protect our democracy. I am open to any proposal that will protect the will of the voters and the institutions they use to decide who governs them."

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