Washington Sen. Kirk Pearson is pushing for more ballot drop boxes, which he says are disproportionately located in smaller jurisdictions.
With Senate Bill 5472, which passed out of the Senate last week, Pearson aims to have one drop box installed per 15,000 registered voters in each county, city, town and census-designated place with a post office.
Right now, Snohomish County has 12 drop boxes. That is not enough to increase participation in those areas for those who don’t to pay what Pearson calls a “poll tax.” Last election people paid 68 cents to send in their lengthy ballots, he said.
The state should “not to discourage people from voting but encourage people in voting,” Pearson said.
Most drop boxes are in the county’s most populous cities, such as Everett, Monroe and Lake Stevens.
In 2016, the Washington Secretary of State’s office counted 360,487 total ballots, with 233,853 of those turned in to drop boxes, according to the Snohomish County Elections department.
Auditors are allowed to install more drop boxes, but making them a permanent fixture can be a challenge in smaller towns where potential sites may be more easily ruled out, according to the bill report.
Snohomish County Auditor Carolyn Weikel said she is in favor of more mobile drop boxes being used during an election, which would be a better approach for smaller towns because they wouldn’t be permanent. The method was very successful during the presidential election last year, she said.
“We are constantly evaluating ‘do we have enough resources for our voters’, on an annual basis, and every election ‘do we have the resources available out there,’ ” she said.
Installing a permanent drop box, including materials, labor and construction costs, can run close to $10,000 per box, Weikel said. Additionally, finding a location is always a challenge. Schools don’t want the added unknown variable of anonymous voters on their campuses, and some towns don’t want the increased traffic. Permanent drop boxes must be open for more than two weeks prior to an election, which means hiring more staff to make pick-ups at those locations, she said.
According to the Senate bill report, “the Secretary of State supports the use of ballot drop boxes, which are a popular method of voting.” County auditors are required by law to set up a voting center that stays open during business hours 18 days prior to an election, and until 8 p.m. on election day, according to the bill.
Weikel said she hopes language will be included in the final bill that states cities would have to designate a location, and state funds would go toward the purchase and installment of any new drop boxes.
“The way the county looks at it is as an unfunded mandate,” she said. “You are telling us to do something, but not giving us any funds to do it.”