Commentary: State expects counties to pick up election tab

Every other district with elections on the ballot pays its costs. Yet the state gets a free ride.

By Stephanie Wright, Nate Nehring and Carolyn Weikel

For The Herald

Washington state’s 39 counties conduct elections on behalf of every level of government, from national presidential elections to local water districts. State residents should be confident and proud that they have one of the most trustworthy and efficient election systems in the United States, with an excellent reputation for integrity, accuracy and access.

Achieving this unparalleled election system comes at a cost. It’s expensive to modernize and maintain election registration and ballot-counting systems. It’s expensive to provide the highest possible election security. And it’s expensive to conduct elections for the 465,000 registered voters in Snohomish County.

Same-day voter registration, more ballot drop boxes, and pre-paid postage are important programs that help improve voter access. Though important, these improvements for voters are costly. So who pays for it all? Nearly every ballot in every election contains districts, such as state, county, city and school. Every participating district pays its share of the total election cost based on the number of registered voters within its boundary lines.

Every participant except for the State of Washington, that is.

The state Legislature provides nothing during even-year elections, when the vast majority of state offices are on the ballot. Despite being given multiple opportunities to do the right thing and change the law, the state instead has stuck cash-strapped county governments with its elections bill. Passing election laws without funding to carry out programs like additional drop boxes or pre-paid postage on ballots are called unfunded mandates.

When the state fails to pay its fair share of state elections costs, your county shoulders the burden. Snohomish County is already under great pressure to meet its obligations to fund myriad statutorily and constitutionally required programs and services. Secure, transparent and accessible elections should not come at the expense of safe streets, fair courts, healthy communities, accessible parks and well-maintained roads.

Election administrators are preparing for 2020, looming as the largest election in Washington state’s history. Now more than ever, we must support secure, transparent and accessible elections.

Hundreds of county officials — including independently elected county auditors, elections directors and county councilmembers across this state — have asked the Legislature to pass a Fair Share Election Funding bill (House Bill 1291 and Senate Bill 5073) this session. As we write this, the Legislature continues to pass off its responsibility to pay for election costs to counties. Meanwhile every school, fire and park district pays its fair share.

It’s time for voters to get involved. As representatives of the Washington State Association of County Auditors and the Washington State Association of Counties, we urge you to call or e-mail your state legislators now and tell them it’s time to pay their fair share of their own elections.

For contact information for the state lawmakers who represent you, call the Legislative Hotline at 800-562-6000 or go to

It’s time for the state to pay its share of elections costs.

Snohomish County Councilmember Stephanie Wright represents District 3. County Councilmember Nate Nehring represents District 1. Carolyn Weikel is Snohomish County auditor.

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