SOUTH BEND — Pacific County is facing a new state mandate to put in 10 more ballot drop-boxes and hire people to service them by 2019.
A state law that took effect on July 23 requires the county to have at least one in each city, town or area with a post office.
County Auditor Joyce Kidd said the county had three ballot drop-box before the Legislature passed the law earlier this year. It has since picked up four used boxes from Thurston County. They are being changed over for Pacific County now, so they won’t be ready for the election on Tuesday, Kidd said.
She has six more to shop for as the county tightens its budget.
“They’re expensive,” she said. “We just can’t afford to go out and buy ballot boxes.”
County Commissioner Frank Wolfe said the ballot drop-off law is another example of the state passing mandates for counties and leaving them to pick up the tab.
Wolfe and Kidd aren’t sure how much it will cost to meet the requirements because it depends on where the auditor can find boxes and how much extra help has to hired.
Officials in Lewis County estimated a cost of at least $6,000 to buy each box and pay to have it installed, the Chronicle reported. Election officials told the Centralia newspaper it’d likely cost of another $5,000 a year to pay staff to service them.
If those estimates are in the ballpark for neighboring Pacific County, it’d could cost more than $42,000 to get the six boxes have them installed. That’s not counting costs for the used Thurston County boxes or the expense of having them serviced.
Changes to come
The county currently has three outdoor drop-boxes to serve 14,382 registered voters, Kidd said. They’re located outside the county administration building in Long Beach, the Courthouse in South Bend and the Washington State Patrol station in Naselle. In south conty, an indoor drop-box is located in the auditor’s office in the administration building.
Under the new rules, the county will be required to have 10 more ballot drops by 2019. It’ll have to have them installed in Chinook Ilwaco, Seaview, Ocean Park, Oysterville, Tokeland, Bay Center, Menlo, Lebam and Raymond.
Once all 13 boxes are in place, the county will have to pay someone to drive to the sites to pick up ballots during the 18-day voting period for every election, Kidd said.
“Some of these places are so remote,” Kidd said. “We’re going to have to pay more staff.”
On election day, she said, 13 people will be needed because each box has to be locked at 8 p.m. The next day, the state requires teams of two to pick up the ballots.
“It’s going to take a whole day,” Kidd said.
The auditor sees the expense of adding more drop-off sites as unnecessary because voters haven’t been asking for them. In Pacific County, she said, the majority of ballots are returned by mail.
No ‘poll tax’
Legislators in Olympia passed the law to address concern that voters having to buy a stamp to send a ballot back by mail amounted to a “poll tax,” Kidd said.
It would make more sense for the county to pay postage for ballots, she said. Instead, it has to spend time and taxpayer dollars putting ballot boxes in every area that has a post office.
“We’re stuck with it,” Kidd said. “It’s not going to be fun.”