One Year After Jan. 6 Riots, Inslee Proposes Making False Claims About Election Results a Crime

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OLYMPIA — One year after rioters attacked the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., and breached the gate at the governor's mansion in Olympia, Gov. Jay Inslee wants to make spreading election misinformation a crime.

During an Associated Press legislative preview Thursday, Inslee expressed his frustration with those who "continue to sow doubt on our electoral process."

"We have to realize that this is a threat that passed Jan. 6," Inslee said.

The Jan. 6 riots in Olympia forced Inslee into a safe room in the governor's mansion as protesters breached the gates and ran to his front door. Inslee recalled Thursday he was ushered out of his living room, into a safe room and told to put on a flak jacket.

Inslee said he would support a bill that would make it a gross misdemeanor — punishable by up to a year in jail or a fine of up to $5,000 — for candidates and elected officials to knowingly lie about election results. As of Thursday, no bill had been filed and no prime sponsor chosen, but Inslee said he has thought a lot about it.

Protesters at the U.S. Capitol and the Washington State Capitol last year continued to spread the belief that President Donald Trump won the election. In Washington, many supporters of Republican gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp still believed the election was fraudulent and Culp won.

Elections officials in Washington and across the country have continued to denounce those claims.

Inslee also cited three state legislators who used taxpayer dollars to attend an election conspiracy conference in South Dakota led by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, according to the Seattle Times.

On the question of constitutionality, Inslee said he believes the move would be constitutional because speech can be limited if it promotes violence. Citing the Capitol riots, Inslee said spreading misinformation about election results ends in violence.

Gonzaga law professor Mary Pat Treuthart said there are types of speech, such as incitement, that aren't protected under the First Amendment. She added, however, it could be difficult to make a law like that work.

Legislatures often struggle to write laws that deal with the First Amendment, she said. It can't be too vague or broad because it is likely to get struck down in court, but it also can't be too restrictive.

"We want to promote free speech most of the time," Treuthart said.

Treuthart added the country typically addresses false information or false speech with more speech, not by punishing or shutting down speech.

Republican Rep. Drew Stokesbary, of Auburn, tweeted that the bill would not pass up to a constitutional test if brought to court.

In 2007, the Washington State Supreme Court shot down a law that prohibits political candidates from making false statements about their opponents, saying the law violated their First Amendment rights.

"You combat bad speech with better speech, not criminal sanctions," Stokesbary tweeted. "Threatening to jail people for political speech is as dangerous to our democracy as questioning election results."

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