My interest was piqued this week when I saw a photo posted on social media of one of our local ballot drop boxes. The text with the photo pointed your attention to a reddish-orange zip tie on the front of the box and declared in the post that we should have greater security to protect our ballots than just a zip tie. A link was included at the bottom of the post so that readers of the post could contact our local auditor, should they agree and share the same concerns.
Well, as someone who has personally waited for results at the courthouse in a number of past elections, I was familiar with the lock and key access to the box. And, I could see the round cutouts in the white metal box where the key could be inserted to open the internal locking mechanism in said posted photo.
Knowing that, I was pretty sure the Facebook community would take care of the misconception — especially if they contacted the auditor — and I watched the conversation unfold.
Within minutes, someone posted a screenshot of a response from the Auditor’s office, explaining that there was lock and key access built internally into the local ballot drop boxes. I also saw county social media channels following up with some additional FAQ-style info to help alleviate those and other concerns, too.
With all of that conversation happening, I started looking back at ballot drop box articles from 2017, when the additional ballot boxes were installed. I was reminded that we gained additional ballot boxes that year with the signing of Senate Bill 5472, which required county auditors to install and maintain a minimum of one ballot drop box per 15,000 registered voters and that each city, town and census-designated place in the county with a post office also must have a drop box.
Lewis County already had a few drop boxes, but that was the year that Pe Ell, Napavine, Winlock, Vader, Mossyrock, Onalaska, Mineral, and Packwood all gained their respective drop boxes (as required). It cost the county $32,000 to install those additional boxes, which they requested reimbursement for from the state risk department.
One of the reasons these ballot drop boxes cost so much is because of their purposeful tank-like construction. This has been an intentional part of Washington state’s vote-by-mail process since the beginning. For instance, today, metal ballot drop boxes in Pierce County go so far as to have internal fire suppression systems in place. They have been intentionally built and engineered to survive even the impact of a vehicle, keep people out and keep the ballots inside protected and secure.
I’ve also had the opportunity to see a sample ballot drop box built by students at Bates Technical College. They proudly display a student-built model — raw and unpainted — at their Central Campus.
Make no mistake: Washington State ballot drop boxes are tough.
But let’s go back to that zip tie everyone was talking about for a second.
Anytime a ballot drop box is opened, Washington state law requires a specific process that includes two people — a witness — and the date and time is logged, along with their names. That zip tie is part of that verification and security process. So, it still does very much serve a purpose.
All in all, I think it was good to see the community engage in the conversation. It’s a topic I find highly interesting myself.
Personally, I can’t wait until we take it a step further, as Oregon did (and was the first state to do in 2016) and implement automatic voter registration, also known as the “Motor Voter Act.” The act automatically registers you to vote-by-mail, once you become eligible at 18, via your driver’s license information. It’s been a notable success in increasing voter participation, according to Oregon public officials.
Brittany Voie is a columnist for The Chronicle. She lives south of Chehalis with her husband and two young sons. She welcomes correspondence from the community at email@example.com.