State must pay its share for elections

By John Blom, Greg Kimsey, Temple Lentz, Gary Medvigy, Julie Olson and Eileen Quiring , John Blom, Greg Kimsey, Temple Lentz, Gary Medvigy, Julie Olson and Eileen Quiring , Guest columnists

Providing for the public’s safety and elections that are accurate, transparent accountable and accessible are two of Clark County’s highest priorities. However, because the Washington State Legislature continues to refuse to pay its fair share of election costs, it is increasingly difficult to properly fund these.

Counties conduct elections on behalf of every level of government — from federal presidential elections to Cemetery District commissioners. Washington state residents should be confident and proud that they have one of the most trustworthy and efficient election systems in the United States, with an excellent reputation for integrity, accuracy and access.

Achieving this unparalleled election system comes with a cost. It’s expensive to modernize and maintain election registration and ballot-counting systems. It’s expensive to provide the highest possible election security. And it’s expensive to conduct elections for 4.4 million registered voters across the state.

Recently enacted laws requiring same-day voter registration and more ballot drop boxes will improve voter access. However, these additions have been mandated by state legislators and are either not funded fully or not funded at all. These create more unfunded mandates to county governments, which already struggle to meet obligations to provide public health services, law enforcement, courts and a myriad of other statutorily and constitutionally required services.

Who should pay election costs? Nearly every ballot in every election contains a mixture of districts, such as state, county, city and schools. Every participating district pays its share of the total election cost based on the number of registered voters within its boundary lines. Every participant except for the state of Washington, that is. The state legislature has decided to “dine and dash” during even-numbered years, when the vast majority of their state offices are on the ballot. Despite being given multiple opportunities to do the right thing and change the law, the state instead sticks your cash-strapped county government with the bill.

When counties are on the hook to pay the entire cost of conducting the state’s elections, it means that law enforcement and our criminal justice system, public health and parks are deprived of resources. So long as the state fails to pay its fair share of state elections, counties will shoulder the burden of these unfunded mandates. County officials will continue to foot the state’s bill while siphoning resources away from public safety and quality of life.

Or will they? Election administrators are readying for the 2020 presidential election year, looming as the largest and most contentious election in Washington state’s history. Will counties be able to backfill the state’s election costs? Is this a risk you want to take?

Now more than ever, we must support secure, transparent and accessible elections. Hundreds of county officials — including all 39 independently elected county auditors and elections directors — asked the state legislature to pass a Fair Share Election Funding bill (House Bill 1291 and Senate Bill 5073). Instead of stepping up to their responsibility as every school, fire and cemetery district does, the state of Washington continues to refuse to pay its fair share of election costs.

Let your voice be heard on this issue and tell your legislators to stop putting our electoral system at risk. We urge you to call or email your state legislators and tell them it’s time to pay their fair share of their own elections. If you don’t know how to reach the lawmakers who represent you, call the Legislative Hotline at 1-800-562-6000 or visit leg.wa.gov.

About the authors: John Blom is a Clark County councilor representing District 3; Greg Kimsey is the Clark County auditor; Temple Lentz is a Clark County councilor representing District 1; Gary Medvigy is a Clark County councilor representing District 4; Julie Olson is a Clark County councilor representing District 2; and Eileen Quiring is chairwoman of the Clark County Council.

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