The more eligible voters casting ballots the better it is for democracy, particularly at the local level.
Given that, state lawmakers made the right call this year in approving a new state law mandating county auditors establish a minimum of one ballot box in each census-designated place in the county with a post office.
In Walla Walla County, the expense is minimal. County Auditor Karen Martin, who oversees elections here, said four new 24-hour boxes will have to be placed in the county — Dixie, Touchet, Wallula and Prescott. This will be in addition to the three boxes in Walla Walla and single boxes in Waitsburg, College Place and Burbank.
The cost for the new boxes is estimated to be between $600 and $1,000 each. And there will be additional expenses to empty the boxes at election time.
Still, given the importance of elections and boosting voter participation, it seems a reasonable expense.
County Commissioner Jim Johnson, however, isn’t pleased the state imposed this mandate without providing state funding to make it happen. As a matter of principle, Johnson’s annoyance is understandable. As the state budget situation has grown tighter, the Legislature has been forcing counties (and cities) to pick up the tabs more often.
But beyond that, Johnson took umbrage with the need to have boxes in out-of-the-way areas.
“The idea that folks who choose to live in a remote area can’t find a way to get their ballot to a post office a little early instead of being able to go three blocks and drop it in a box is a little ridiculous.” Johnson said.
On this point, we disagree. If people who live in urban areas have access to drop boxes so they can save the cost of a stamp, it’s appropriate to offer this to rural populations. And in using drop boxes it is 100 percent certain votes will be counted. Sending a ballot through the U.S. Mail on Election Day can be risky, as some post offices don’t postmark letters later in the day, thus making those ballots invalid.
This unfunded mandate by the state will hit some of the counties that are larger geographically harder, which is unfortunate, but the ultimate goal of boosting voter participation remains a good one.
Walla Walla County has gotten off relatively easy financially for a convenient option for rural voters to cast their ballots.
Again, getting more registered voters — no matter where they live — to participate in every election benefits society.