- Associated Press - Friday, April 7, 2017

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - A bill requiring that dozens of additional ballot drop boxes be installed throughout Washington state has cleared both legislative chambers and now awaits the governor’s signature.

Bill sponsor Sen. Kirk Pearson said the measure is aimed at making it easier for voters to return their ballots without having to pay postage, The Daily Herald reported (https://bit.ly/2oR0eLH ). All counties in Washington conduct vote-by-mail elections.

“Forcing people to pay for postage in order to vote is essentially a poll tax,” Pearson, a Republican from Monroe, said in a statement Thursday. “It’s only fair that every citizen should have an opportunity to drop their ballot off rather than mail it in.”

Supporters say adding ballot boxes will increase voter access in rural communities. Opponents called it an unfunded mandate and said the well-intended measure forces counties to spend thousands of dollars to serve small numbers of voters in remote communities.

The House passed Senate Bill 5472 on a 51-46 vote Wednesday with only one Republican favoring it. The Senate unanimously approved the bill in February. Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to sign the bill into law.

“I would like to increase the number of ballot drop boxes. I think it’s appropriate to do that in many, many places in the state,” Inslee told reporters Thursday.

The bill would result in between 250 and 275 additional drop boxes across the state. It 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 in a county with a post office.

Snohomish County Auditor Carolyn Weikel was among the auditors who testified against the legislation as it moved through the Senate and House. She asked lawmakers to give auditors more time and flexibility.

“Now we are forced to deal with an unfunded mandate and no additional dollars to pay for it in this current budget,” Weikel said Thursday.

Counties are on the hook to pay for acquiring and installing the boxes. However, qualified rural counties could receive grants of up to $1,000 per box location, the Herald reported.

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Information from: The Daily Herald, https://www.heraldnet.com

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