Monroe lawmaker wants more ballot drop boxes in county

OLYMPIA — Republican state Sen. Kirk Pearson doesn’t like the vote-by-mail system and thinks putting a stamp on a return envelope is a poll tax.

And when Snohomish County voters realized they needed two stamps to mail back their November ballot due to its weight, they may have been discouraged from voting, he said.

The Monroe lawmaker has a remedy — have a lot more drop boxes installed around the state.

Pearson introduced Senate Bill 5472 to require at least one ballot drop box for every 15,000 registered voters in a county and a minimum of one box in each “city, town, and census-designated place in a county with a post office.”

It received a hearing Feb. 8 and passed the Senate Committee on State Government on Friday.

“It will allow people to not be disenfranchised,” Pearson testified in the hearing. “I think it will encourage more people to vote.”

The senator said many constituents in his 39th Legislative District must travel a long distance to find a box to return ballots postage-free.

Complying with such a law won’t be cheap or easy, Snohomish County Auditor Carolyn Weikel said.

There are now 12 permanent drop boxes in Snohomish County. The bill would require another 38 costing about $10,000 each, she said.

Finding places to put them is a challenge because if they are permanent, they must be accessible 24 hours a day, she said.

“People don’t want them permanently installed in their parking lot or in front of their business,” Weikel said.

Voters really like using drop boxes.

In the presidential election, 1,934,136 ballots were returned by Washington voters through a drop box, according to figures compiled by the Secretary of State’s Office. That is 57.5 percent of the 3,363,440 ballots cast.

In Snohomish County, 233,853 ballots came in via a drop box, accessible voting site or one of the mobile drop box vans deployed in the final days of the election. That amounted to 65 percent of the ballots counted.

In the legislative hearing, a representative of the Washington State Association of County Auditors asked whether in lieu of a law, they could be allowed to work with the Secretary of State’s Office on new rules to improve access to drop boxes.

“It is complicated. But we hear you,” Thurston County Auditor Mary Hall told lawmakers on the committee. “Let us come up with a solution that will work for everybody.”

Lori Augino, state elections director, told lawmakers a rule-making process could possibly be finished in time to get additional drop boxes installed for the November elections.

Pearson said he wasn’t going to set aside the bill.

“That’s a nice offer from them but sometimes people forget,” Pearson said. “I want to move this as far as I can.”

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

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