Over the weekend, state Representative Sam Hunt (D-22, Olympia) sent a scathing email, obtained by PubliCola, to two county auditors criticizing their testimony against a bill requiring ballot drop boxes on college campuses. “I would expect someone who is supposed to run elections to read a bill about elections before launching into testimony,” Rep. Hunt wrote, “Your opposition would at least have had a ring of truth to it.” 

The bill in dispute, sponsored by Rep. Tina Orwall (D-33, Des Moines), requires a drop box at each public institution of higher education and establishes an advisory committee with student input to decide the drop box location and appropriate voter outreach plan. The house version of the bill passed 53-44 along party lines with Rep. Hunt's support.

“I would expect someone who is supposed to run elections to read a bill about elections before launching into testimony,” Rep Hunt wrote, “Your opposition would at least have had a ring of truth to it.”

During a hearing on the bill in the Senate Government Operations Committee last Thursday, Pierce County auditor Julie Anderson and Clark County auditor Greg Kimsey argued that the bill encroaches on their election expertise by enacting top-down legislation to mandate drop box locations instead of leaving it local governments.

"People who run elections know best how to run elections," Kimsey said at the committee hearing. The two auditors also cited the concerns of additional costs of establishing and maintaining drop boxes and the impacts of “favoring a specialized population”, i.e. college students.

“I thought county auditors were supposed to be advocates for increasing voter turnout and participation; that no longer seems to be the case. “ Hunt said in his email. “It clearly appears that your priorities are to protect the status quo and reduce your workload.”

In the frank email, Rep. Hunt countered both auditors’ claims with details from the bill itself. For example, responding to Anderson's claim about having to add an additional drop box on campus (when there was already a drop box at the entrance of WSU, Tri-Cities) presented a cost redundancy, Rep. Hunt retorted, “If she had read the bill, she would have found that a campus does not have to install a drop box if there is a box within one mile of the campus.”

Kimsey also said that “drop boxes would be required at every community college, every extension of every college.” Rep. Hunt shot back in his email, “Again, actually reading the bill would help. By my calculations the bill would require about 47 new drop boxes across the state. Yes, only 47 drop boxes. Where do I get that number?  Because the bill, as it passed the House, required only one drop box at the main campus of each community and technical college, The Evergreen State College and each university, and the branch campuses of WSU and UW.”

As the bill states, drop boxes would not be required at extensions of community colleges. The discrepancy arose over Kimsey’s understanding that extensions of four-year universities, such as WSU-Vancouver or UW-Bothell, would require ballot drop boxes. According to the bill, that is true.

Rep. Hunt also blasted Anderson’s assumption that the bill “would result in pretty ridiculous and unintended consequences” simply by making voting easier for, as Kimsey put it, “one small group of voters.” 

"Siting boxes on college campuses by definition is targeting a very narrow and specialized population," Kimsey said.

Hunt responded in his email, “The speaker from Associated Students of University of Washington [Angie Weiss] stated that 9,079 ballots were collected as a result of the UW campus drop box. [It] seems like that one small group of voters responded very well.” He added, “It sounds like auditors hold students in disdain.  No wonder we have trouble getting younger people to vote.”

“It sounds like auditors hold students in disdain.  No wonder we have trouble getting younger people to vote.”

(UW students secured a temporary ballot drop box at Red Square in the 2012 election, hoping to demonstrate that students vote and deserve a permanent drop box.)

As to the auditors’ concern that the drop boxes would cost a steep $4,000-$5,000 each, Rep. Hunt did some extra research. “Secretary of State [Kim] Wyman says that the most expensive drop box she had built was $1,200. ."

In committee, both Angie Weiss of UW and Jackie Sperlich of CWU said students helped pay for their campuses’ drop boxes. Sperlich said putting a drop box on CWU’s campus last year cost approximately $1,700. Weiss noted that ASUW “can contribute under $1,000, but if a larger amount is required to install a ballot box we are willing to seek outside grant money and to raise funds from students and the community as well.”

Anderson said her office considered cheaper models of drop boxes, but said Pierce County would invest in more secure models to ensure voter confidence. The bill’s fiscal note estimates the total cost at $182,000.

Both Anderson and Kimsey insist that they support ballot drop boxes on college campuses, but that the way to go about siting any ballot drop box should be through local jurisdictions.

Referencing Sperlich and Weiss’ ability to get drop boxes placed on campus, Kimsey told PubliCola, “The two students were able to receive very good solutions, but they didn’t reference local election officials who helped with that [in the public hearing]. People who are elected to administer elections are in the best position to respond to concerns to voters in their counties. If people aren't able to get their concerns by local officials if the legislator sees there’s a problem, then we consider a legislative solution.”

Both auditors see the bill as unnecessary. Anderson insisted she already helped establish drop boxes on the campuses of Clover Park Technical College and Tacoma Community College, and in 2010 pushed to put a drop box at UW-Tacoma.

But while the student representatives maintained that establishing drop boxes on college campuses would raise voter participation, Anderson believes that the drop box itself is not the solution, “I do not believe that an inanimate object creates patriotism and moves people to action,” she says.

Ultimately, Rep. Hunt concluded that Anderson and Kimsey “have severely damaged their reputation by their near-blanket opposition to legislative proposals this year.”

Kimsey sent an response to Rep. Hunt’s email on Tuesday, in which he recalled the Auditors Association’s support of a voter registration deadline bill and a uniform ballot design bill. Kimsey also wrote, “The Auditor’s association supported the suggested amendment to [the bill] establishing a pilot project to evaluate ballot drop boxes on campus,” before the legislature mandates drop boxes to be put on all campuses.  He concluded that he is open to engage with legislators about further options.

“I did read the bill,” Kimsey told us. 

Rep. Hunt has not returned our call.

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