Courtesy of King County

Voter Access Helps Democrats. So Why Is a Republican Championing It?

It’s about democracy, not Democrats.

OLYMPIA — 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 Tuesday, 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.

King County elections officials estimate 41 to 43 new boxes are required to comply. There are 18 communities in line to get their first, including Mercer Island, Medina, Kenmore, Woodinville, Tukwila, North Bend and Skykomish.

Where to put the other 25 is to be determined. Certainly Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond, Kent and Federal Way are possibilities given their number of registered voters. 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.

In the town of Index, 101 of the 114 registered voters cast ballots in the presidential election. If having a box would have increased turnout by 5 percent it would have meant another six votes cast. In Skykomish, 99 of its 133 registered voters cast ballots last fall without a box. Put one in, boost participation and the total would climb 7 votes.

In Granite Falls, 1,307 of its 1,919 registered voters took part in November with a majority backing Trump. Add 5 percent, you’d have had another 96 votes cast with more than half going for the president. Three communities, three boxes and maybe 110 additional votes in a presidential election, assuming a good increase in voter turnout.

Now, what about Seattle where there were 460,927 registered voters in November with most voting against Trump, for Inslee and for Sound Transit 3. If adding one box magically increased turnout in the city by 5 percent, another 23,046 ballots would have been cast.

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 Contact him at 360-352-8623; Twitter: @dospueblos.

More in News & Comment

Fire Damages Bellevue Mosque for Second Time in Just Over a Year

The building was vacant with its utilities shut off at the time of the fire.

Seattle’s WeWork Veterans in Residence Program Powered by Bunker Labs started in January 2018. Photo courtesy WeWork
Veterans Expand Their Entrepreneurial Skills Through New Program

WeWork and Bunker Labs’ partnership offers ten veterans specialized education and a workspace.

Snoqualmie National Forest Tree House Contained Child Porn

A man has been charged after images of children posing as fairies were found in the illegal cabin.

The Centralia Power Plant is a coal-burning plant owned by TransAlta which supplies 380 megawatts to Puget Sound Energy. It is located in Lewis County and slated to shut down by 2025. Photo by Aaron Kunkler
Washington Coal Country’s Underpowered Future

As Puget Sound Energy phases out coal, struggling Lewis County is left searching for economic answers.

Maru Mora Villalpando stands outside of the Seattle Immigration Court after her first deportation hearing on March 15, 2018. Photo by Melissa Hellmann
Anti-ICE Organizer Stands Defiant at Her Own Deportation Hearing

Hundreds gathered in support of Maru Mora-Villalpando outside of Seattle Immigration Court.

Suburban and Rural Students Join the Call for Gun Control

What the National School Walkout looked like outside of Seattle.

Garfield High School students stand in silence to protest gun violence. Photo by Melissa Hellmann
Seattle Students Take Part in the National School Walkout

Garfield High School students pay tribute to the Parkland victims by rallying for gun control.

Most Read