- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 22, 2014

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Voting in elections could get easier for college students in Washington state under proposed legislation that would require ballot drop boxes to be placed at public institutions of higher learning.

The House Government Operations and Elections Committee approved House Bill 1290 on a 6-4 vote Wednesday. The bill next heads to the House Rules Committee.

Sponsored by Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, the measure would require a ballot drop box be placed at each public college, university, community college and technical college, and at certain branch campuses. County auditors could place more than one drop box if a college’s administration or student body association agreed to jointly fund the installation.

The bill also would require county auditors to establish drop box advisory committees with college representation and would require the consideration of American Indian reservations when determining where to place other ballot drop boxes.

“I think this is a great opportunity to make sure we’re engaging students on campuses,” Orwall said.

Under the bill, anyone tampering or destroying a ballot drop box could face a civil penalty of up to $5,000, in addition to other penalties authorized by law.

Debbie Adelstein, Whatcom County’s auditor, said she liked the penalty part of the bill because there have been instances of drop-box tampering across the state. She also said creating additional advisory committees is unnecessary because those already in place could handle the duties. Lawmakers also could consider a broader bill that addresses more than just students, she said, and added auditors would be willing to help look at costs.

Another voting measure heard by the committee Wednesday, House Bill 1278, would require counties to include prepaid postage for ballot return envelopes for certain elections. Primary and general elections in even-numbered years and special elections to fill unexpired terms of statewide elected officials and state legislators would require prepaid postage.

Rep. Steve Bergquist, D-Renton, said previously he sponsored the bill after hearing people say during an election season that they didn’t vote because they had no stamps.

Katie Blinn with the Secretary of State’s Office told lawmakers at the hearing that their main concern with the bill is that the U.S. Postal Service is phasing out postmarks on prepaid postage envelopes.

Because of that, she said, they’d have to move to having ballots due on Election Day. “It’s essentially a logistics issue here.”

About the cost, estimated at about $2 million in a two-year budget cycle, Kittitas County Auditor Jerry Pettit said taxpayers will pay one way or the other, either for a stamp or potentially through taxes.

“Nothing’s free,” he said.

Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, said the bill is still in the exploratory stages and that he doesn’t expect it to move out of committee this year.

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