Yesterday, the Senate State Government, Tribal Relations, & Elections Committee gave a thumbs up to Senate Bill 6610, which would repeal the push polls that have needlessly cluttered up our ballots for the past eight years.
This is great news for Washingtonians.
Sadly, none of the Republicans on the committee were willing to give the bill a “do pass” recommendation, even though it would save the taxpayers money.
Republican State Senator Hans Zeiger was supportive last year, but Tim Eyman’s campaign of harassment evidently had an effect, as Zeiger opted to refer this year’s bill to Senate Rules “without recommendation”.
New Republican State Senator Ron Muzzall of Island County gave the bill a thumbs down. State Senator Brad Hawkins did not sign the boards at all.
It was up to the Democrats — Sam Hunt, Patty Kuderer, Bob Hasegawa, and Dean Takko — to move Senate Bill 6610 forward. And they did.
As we should all recognize, elections are a public service, and no public service is free. All public services have a cost. All public services are supported by our tax dollars. Until recently, the Legislature hasn’t had much of a discussion about what elections cost, or how they are paid for. Thanks in part to the leadership of Sam Hunt, Patty Kuderer, and Mia Gregerson, that has begun to change.
And we’re grateful.
With this bill, we have an opportunity to save the taxpayers a significant amount of money. Eliminating what are really propaganda pieces from our ballot will save millions of tax dollars at the state and local levels every biennium.
How do we know?
Because the Secretary of State and county elections officials have been turning over data about the costs of recent elections to the Northwest Progressive Institute. From this data, we know that the 2017 election collectively cost the counties a total of $14.1 million, of which the state’s share was $2.7 million.
Most of the state’s share in 2017 was for the
advisory votes push polls, because only four districts held special elections for legislative positions and only one county held a special election for a state-level judicial position.
If this legislation had been in place prior to the 2017 election, the state could have saved most of that $2.7 million dollars, as most counties had no state-level items on the ballot at all. These costs are in addition to the cost of printing the voter’s pamphlet statement. In the past, when the costs of the “advisory votes” were brought up, the only figures that were provided pertained to the costs associated with printing and mailing the pamphlet.
But of course, the main costs associated with an election have to do with the ballots themselves.
They must be designed, prepared, printed, mailed, tabulated on their return, and stored securely thereafter. These costs are far greater than those associated with the voter’s pamphlet statements.
For those unaware, in Washington State, the costs of elections in even numbered years are currently borne exclusively by the counties, while the costs of elections in odd numbered years are shared.
The counties bill the state for its share under an arrangement originally agreed to in the 1970s. This means that after an odd year election, the counties send the state a bill, while after an even year election, they don’t. There is a separate bill under consideration to extend this cost sharing arrangement to even years.
For now, what we have is the data from the odd years.
The 2019 data is still rolling in, so we do not have a complete picture of the costs yet. But some counties have finished and submitted their invoice vouchers. For example, Pierce County finished theirs a couple weeks ago.
The state’s share of the election costs in Pierce comes to $273,462, with the total cost for the 2019 election in Pierce County coming to $1.2 million. In Thurston County, the state’s share came to $286,071.45. In Whatcom County, the state’s share came to $67,620.37, and in Walla Walla County it was $26,284.35.
As you know, this past year, we had an unprecedented twelve push polls on the ballot. They represented eighty percent of the fifteen ballot measures. Only twenty percent of last year’s measures were real ballot measures.
Fake or real, all ballot measures cost money to consider.
In odd years, the costs of the push polls are borne at the state level.
In even years, the costs are borne by county taxpayers.
It makes absolutely no sense that public tax dollars are being spent to put push polls in front of voters. People who want to engage in electioneering for or against a person or a position can do so on their own dime.
We implore the Senate to pass worthy legislation and end a glaring case of what our Republican friends would call “waste, fraud, and abuse” in government.