EVERETT — The Democratic candidate for Secretary of State said some Snohomish County voters may sit out the election if they cannot afford the extra stamp needed to mail their ballots back.
Tina Podlodowski said she wants the county to install additional drop boxes and conduct a “comprehensive outreach plan” to let voters know they’ll need 68 cents postage rather than a single first class stamp.
While a second stamp isn’t a lot of money, she said for some voters it may be enough to deter them from participating. Hence the need to ensure there is a drop box nearby, Podlodowski said.
“It’s a sense of disenfranchising voters and adding one more barrier to keep them from voting,” she said Friday.
Snohomish County Auditor Carolyn Weikel said her office is already getting out the word and explaining the larger ballot is due to an unusually high number of statewide and countywide measures.
“We are being proactive. We do have a communication plan that we started last week,” she said. “Clearly it was effective because she knew it was 68 cents.”
Podlodowski is challenging Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman. She has criticized the incumbent for not fighting harder to get the state Legislature to provide enough money to cover the cost of postage on ballots and drop boxes.
Wyman backed bills introduced in 2015 and 2016 for pre-paid postage. The legislation, which carried a $2.7 million price tag, did not receive votes in the House or Senate.
In the meantime, county auditors throughout the state have established relationships with the U.S. Post Office to ensure all ballots get delivered for counting.
In Snohomish County, there are 12 permanent drop boxes. For this presidential election, when turnout typically exceeds 80 percent, additional drop boxes will be deployed temporarily in the final three days of the election in Darrington, Sultan, Granite Falls, Mountlake Terrace, the Quil Ceda Village administration building and the Everett Mall parking lot.
Vans containing the boxes will be parked at designated locations each day. Exact times and sites will be published in material sent with the ballots and in the local voters’ pamphlet.
Podlodowski said that’s still not enough for the third most populous county in the state. Pierce County, she noted, has twice as many boxes and that’s too few.
Podlodowski wants Weikel to ask the Snohomish County Council for funds to pay for 15 more permanent drop boxes or drop box vans with extended hours. In an online petition, she asks for them to be installed by Oct. 20. As of Friday, 204 people signed the petition.
She sent a letter with the petition and names of signers to Weikel, County Executive Dave Somers and county councilmembers Friday.
“Free and fair elections are vital to the health of any democracy and in our democracy, your vote is your voice,” she wrote. “Sadly, the voices of some voters may not be heard this year unless we remove serious barriers to voting.”
Having more boxes does not guarantee more people will vote. In the August primary, Snohomish County recorded a turnout of 33.6 percent compared to Pierce County’s 31.7 percent.
Weikel said the price of a box ranges from $2,500 to $5,000 depending on its size and design. Installation is another cost. 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,” she said. “It is not as easy as Tina would like us to believe.”
Voters in Whatcom County and Douglas County also will need to pay higher postage due to larger ballots. Podlodowski said she intends to call auditors in those counties and ask them to add drop boxes and work with community groups to spread the word on the added costs.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; email@example.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.
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