Bill would make it easier on voters

In the stack of bills awaiting Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee’s signature is what one supporter described as the “most progressive democracy measure” emerging from the Legislature this year.

This legislation would require at least 250 more ballot drop boxes be installed around the state. Voter turnout will presumably rise when more people in little towns and big cities get better access to a metal enclosure where they can return their ballots postage free.

Democrats are happy as they view higher turnout as a prerequisite for winning elections. They calculate this looming change could help solidify their party’s influence in urban areas, where more Democrats reside, as well as its grip on the governor’s mansion, which has been under Democrat control since the 1980s. A coalition of progressive groups and statewide labor unions wrote Inslee to urge the governor to sign Senate Bill 5472.

How ironic then that the bill’s sponsor is a conservative Republican senator who was one of the state’s first lawmakers to get on the political train carrying Donald Trump to the White House.

Sen. Kirk Pearson of Monroe doesn’t view his bill as fomenting progressivism. Never has. For him it’s always been about giving his constituents in Granite Falls and other out-of-the-way communities in the state an easier way to return their ballots.

“I just wanted better access to everybody,” he said, recalling a time when every precinct had a polling place. “I do not think it will favor one party over another. Everybody wins.”

The bill, which Inslee is expected to sign soon, requires 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 with a post office. It works out to at least 250 additional drop boxes in Washington.

It means little towns would get at least one drop box for certain and a couple more could be added in larger communities to help meet the 1 per 15,000 registered voters mandate.

King County elections officials estimate 41 to 43 new boxes are required to comply. There are 18 communities in line to get their first – Enumclaw received a drop box last year – and where to put the other 25 is to be determined. It is awfully hard to imagine Seattle not getting a couple more too, an outcome one must presume favors Democratic candidates.

Pearson’s bill takes effect 90 days after its signing. That means many new boxes should be in place for this fall’s election with all of them in place by next year’s contests for legislative and federal offices, and statewide initiatives.

It’s not possible to predict whether any party will benefit more. But considering the political math involved it’s easy to see why some Democratic interests are salivating.

To their credit, Pearson and Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila, argued for democracy, not Democrats, in their April 7 letter to Inslee urging him to sign the bill.

“Elections are one of the most important things we do in government,” they wrote. “In order to show our voters that their elected officials care about their vote, we need to make it easy for them to cast one.”

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623;jcornfield@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.