Kevin Duncan puts his ballot in the ballot drop box outside of the Arlington Library in February 2020. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

Kevin Duncan puts his ballot in the ballot drop box outside of the Arlington Library in February 2020. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

High court: State must pay for some, not all, ballot boxes

Snohomish County sued to recoup the cost of adding 21 ballot drop boxes to comply with a 2017 law.

OLYMPIA — Snohomish County sued the state to recoup all the money it spent complying with a law requiring counties put in more ballot drop boxes.

On Thursday, the state Supreme Court ruled that 2017 law was not an unfunded mandate, thus the state is only obligated to pay a portion of the tab for Snohomish and the other 38 counties.

Justices rejected the counties’ assertion that because the state demanded that drop boxes be installed, it was required to provide money to cover the cost.

Instead, justices sided with state attorneys, who argued a separate law dealing with apportioning of election costs took precedent. That one dictates the state must pay its proportional share of expenses associated with an election.

“The Counties’ claim of entitlement to full reimbursement pursuant to the unfunded mandate statute is best described as a mere expectation,” Justice Mary Yu wrote for the majority.

The lawsuit, filed in December 2019, centers on a 2017 law requiring counties to provide at least one drop box for every 15,000 registered voters and a minimum of one box in each city, town and census-designated place with a post office.

In October 2020, a King County Superior Court judge ruled the law violated Washington’s unfunded mandate statute, which prohibits the state from requiring local governments to provide new or expanded service without giving them money to cover the cost. Judge Nelson Lee ordered the state to fully reimburse counties for expenses they incurred.

Thursday’s ruling overturns that decision.

When the suit was filed, Snohomish County had spent roughly $100,000 on new boxes. That total is up to $260,000. The county now has 33 drop boxes, 21 of which have been bought and installed since the law took effect.

The Supreme Court remanded the case to the lower court to sort out what the state owes each county.

Snohomish County Auditor Garth Fell said Thursday the county always supported the expansion of ballot drop boxes and, when the law passed, proactively invested to add more “because we recognized the benefit to our voters.”

“Now that the case has been remanded back to the lower court, once we have a final outcome in the case, we will determine how we will recover the capital and maintenance costs,” Fell said in an email.

The Washington State Association of Counties was the lead plaintiff, along with Snohomish County.

Eric Johnson, executive director of the association, said Thursday they were “deciphering the decision” but it’s clear the state “does have to pay their portion of costs.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dospueblos.

Talk to us

More in Local News

A Port Angeles police officer cordons off an empty lot in Sequim on Thursday as law enforcement officials investigate an incident in the area. (Michael Dashiell/Olympic Peninsula News Group)
Man arrested in Sequim, connected to homicide, has Snohomish County ties

A dead woman was found in Bret Allen Kenney’s home, police say. He previously attacked Snohomish County Jail guards.

LOCAL - MOUNTAIN LOOP HIGHWAY
HERALD STAFF PHOTO BY JENNIFER BUCHANAN
PHOTO SHOT 062208
A car makes its way through a winding unpaved section of the Mountain Loop Highway 15 miles outside of Darrington.
14-mile scenic stretch of Mountain Loop Highway opens early

The highway between Granite Falls and Darrington reopened to traffic on Friday due to good weather.

Britney Barber, owner of Everett Improv. Barber performs a shows based on cuttings from The Everett Herald. Photographed in Everett, Washington on May 16, 2022. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Cut this paper up and have a laugh at Everett Improv

The troupe’s new recurring “Boozie Newzie” show is based off clippings from The Daily Herald. Meta, dude.

HIdden River Middle School (Monroe School District)
Monroe school employee on leave for ‘racially insensitive language’

The incident took place at Hidden River Middle School. Also, police were investigating racist vandalism found at another school.

Svetlana Kravchenko appears in court for her sentencing Thursday, May 19, 2022, at the Snohomish County Courthouse in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Everett woman gets community service in 2019 fatal hit-and-run

Svetlana Kravchenko was required to stay at the scene after hitting and killing Te Nguyen, 83. Instead, she went home.

A tiny homes program that opened in early July began with each unit claimed and a wait list of 60. Here Patrick Diller, head of community partnerships for Pallet, discusses the Pallet Shelter Pilot Project on June 29, 2021 in Everett. (Katie Hayes / Herald file)
Everett marks $2.7 million in federal funds for homeless housing

With the American Rescue Plan money, the city’s small housing program for unsheltered people could expand to three sites.

WSDOT workers open up the Smokey Point Rest Area on Tuesday, May 17, 2022 in Arlington, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Free coffee will be back soon at Smokey Point rest areas

Everett’s Silver Lake rest area for southbound I-5 drivers remains closed while WSDOT works on the facility.

Everett
Pro skateboarding competition coming to Everett in August

Street League Skateboarding’s championship tour will be at Angel of the Winds arena for two days.

Drivers heading north on Interstate 5 will take a detour from Highway 104 to 220th Street SW and back to I-5 this weekend during nightly lane closures for Sound Transit light rail work. (Sound Transit)
Light rail work closing I-5 North lanes nightly this weekend

Crews need to close northbound lanes between 220th Street SW and Highway 104. Drivers have two detour options.

Most Read