Ballot Drop Boxes: Auditor Drops Opportunity

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Two very large ballot drop boxes are sitting on the floor of a Whatcom County storage room - and have been for weeks. Auditor Diana Bradrick has decided not to install them. Instead, Bellingham is hamstrung with only two usable ballot drop boxes, while rural and small town county voters have 16 boxes. Bellingham has almost half the registered voters in the entire county.

As a consequence, we can again expect chaos at our two city drop boxes as voters will have to commute to either the Courthouse or Sehome Village Mall to drop their ballots. While Bradrick touts five drop boxes for Bellingham on the auditor’s website, three are located on two of our college campuses - very convenient for students walking the campuses, but virtually inaccessible to voters who first must find parking so they can then try to find the boxes. Absurd.

What happened? In August, I posted three articles on the issue of too few ballot drop boxes for half the county’s voters. Those articles are linked below this piece. In requesting info for those previous articles from Bradrick, she was deceptive and evasive, getting information from her was like pulling teeth. She apparently did not want this issue discussed in public.

In early October, Bradrick replaced the two medium-sized boxes in Ferndale and Sehome Village with large boxes and capacity went from approximately 2,000 ballots to 3,000 ballots per box. Good move. These two medium-sized boxes then could have been installed in Bellingham to ease the turmoil and congestion at the two viable boxes. The obvious locations for a third and fourth ballot drop box in Bellingham are the Barkley Village area and Northwest Avenue at Birchwood. They would be far more convenient for voters who must drive into Belliingham from the northwest or from Mt. Baker Highway. And - to repeat - additional boxes would ease the chaos at the two existing drop boxes.

The auditor thinks larger boxes in Bellingham, with more frequent ballot pickups, will solve the problems we had during the primary election in August and in 2019. But capacity of drop boxes is only half the problem we have in Bellingham. The other half is congestion, as hundreds of voters try to access these two drop boxes at the same times near election day. In August, at both drop boxes, there were times when in excess of 30 cars lined up, snaking out of parking lots and down city streets. At Sehome, the lineup of cars went back through the major intersection at Samish Way and Bill McDonald Parkway and also jammed up the I-5 overpass.

Western Washington University students have shown more savvy on what is needed than Bradrick. The Associated Student Board, using student funds, purchased both ballot drop boxes on campus and installed each in a convenient location for students walking across campus. The students get it.

The auditor is trying to install larger boxes and pick up ballots more often. But she is completely ignoring a third factor: convenient access to the boxes. We have thousands more people voting in this election than the August primary, and we have a much higher percentage of voters who, in trying to guarantee their ballots are counted, are taking them directly to drop boxes rather than take any chance with the mail.

Indeed, it is now too late to mail a ballot. Republicans are bringing lawsuits in other states to prohibit counting ballots received by mail after Nov 3, regardless of the postmark date. That probably will not happen in our state, but no one should take that chance. Use a ballot drop box.

Another factor is our return to Standard Time tonight; it will get dark at 5 p.m. We will have hundreds, and possibly thousands, of voters over the next three days trying to jockey their cars through disorderly lines in the dark to drop their ballots. Many will park where they can, within a block or two, and walk to the drop box. If we have bad weather in the first few days of November, then we can add wind and rain to the darkness.

Before 2012 and all-mail-in voting, we had 58 polling locations in Bellingham. We should have, at a minimum, eight drop boxes to provide convenience and avoid chaos and possible danger for voters. In one day back in early October, a county crew could have installed the two unused boxes that are sitting in the county’s storeroom. They would have gone a long way toward helping voters during this election.

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About John Servais

Citizen Journalist and Editor • Fairhaven, Washington USA • Member since Feb 26, 2008

John started Northwest Citizen in 1995 to inform fellow citizens of serious local political issues that the Bellingham Herald was ignoring. With the help of donors from the beginning, he has [...]

Comments by Readers

Christopher S Hudson

Nov 01, 2020

Making voting difficult for citizens is a feature, not a bug. There is no reason our congress-critters could not make federal elections a federal holiday… a long weekend that includes Monday. All this baloney about the dangers of ballots and the mail is just blowing smoke.

We do a pretty good job here in WA State, not too bad in Whatcom County but as John points out, we can do better… with some practical, not complex or expensive changes.

I don’t want to hear any more MSM babble about voting being a “priviledge,” which implies permission. It’s an inalienable right, and those people serving the public better remember who works for who, OK? We are collectively The Boss, the owners of this messy business!

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John Servais

Nov 01, 2020

Christopher, well put.  It is almost as if our auditor has intentionally handicapped the more liberal voters of Bellingham in favor of the more conservative rural voters.  She actually was planning to put both those extra ballot drop boxes in the rural county in time for this election.  Perhaps the potential publicity of that deterred her for now.  She and the previous auditor have been determined to not put more than two ballot drop boxes in Bellingham.  What is their political affilation? 

Of course we need to provide plenty of boxes for our rural neighbors and the two new locations the auditor plans for should get new boxes - but they only need be the small capacity ones - not the much larger ones that were in Ferndale and Sehome that she planed to put out there.  The two places are Maple Falls and Nooksack.  A state law requires every legal community to have one.  Granted the Nooksack box will be maybe one mile from the existing Everson box, and the Maple Falls one will be only a 3 minute drive from the existing Kendall box.  Ferndale needs a second drop box also, perhaps across the freeway in the WECU parking lot.  Voting should be convenient for all voters in the county.  This is a primary job of the Auditor position in our county government.  

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Dianne Foster

Nov 01, 2020

All the auditors have been Democrats since Shirley Forslof.  Have you asked her why there are not more boxes?   At least we have a voter’s pamplet,  which they do not have in 3 of the 5 counties in the 2nd CD….  they will say it’s too expensive.   (I don’t know how someone could figure out how to vote without it.)   Maybe we should examine the budget.

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John Servais

Nov 01, 2020

Dianne, yes, I have asked the auditor why no more than two ballot drop boxes in Bellingham.  Her answer is we do not need anymore - that two are sufficient for the city.  The only corrective action is a larger box in Sehome and more frequent collections to prevent the Sehome box from overflowing - as it did in August and has in the past.  She continues to think that mailing ballots would make anymore drop boxes unnecessary.  How out of touch with reality.  

To really address your question - getting any information from her has been like pulling teeth.  It took weeks of rephrasing my questions to learn from her that two new large size drop boxes had been ordered last summer. I learned via a birdie in the courthouse who knew of my concern and lack of answers.  Without such inside sources, we in news would be blind and you, readers, residents and citizens, would not know most of what your governments are up to. 

For over 40 years I have had good communications with our auditors, from Wella Hansen in the 1970s and 80s, through the many years with Shirley Forslof and her successor Debbie Adelstein.  They helped me stay abreast of the technical aspects of our voting processes and elections - and I never had reason to write critically of any of them.  With the election of Diana Bradrick last year this changed abruptly with answers to questions needing to be pried out of her - and now the absurdity of storing ballot drop boxes that are very much needed to be in use in Bellingham.

Credit for printing of a county voters pamphlet goes to Debbie Adelstein, the previous auditor. As the Internet replaced printed brochures, she felt strongly that we should continue to have a printed pamphlet so all citizens in the county would have easy access to candidate and ballot issue information.  

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Tim Paxton

Nov 02, 2020

Vote suppression?   Its an annual event here in Whatcom.  

I wonder how much our election officials rake in each year in cash bribes for these coincidental “glitches”.   No excuse not to have a secure voting system with ease of access.

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Dick Conoboy

Nov 02, 2020

Tim,

You are suggesting by your comment that there is a problem with bribery and an unsecured voting system in Whatcom County.  What have you to back  up those implications?

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Bill McCallum

Nov 04, 2020

Debbie Adelstein is not the reason Whatcom County has a voters pamphlet.

Charter Amendment 3 in 2005 received 60.4 percent of the vote. It mandated a published voters pamphlet for every primary and general election.

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John Servais

Nov 04, 2020

Bill, thanks.  I stand corrected.  Article 3.52 of our Whatcom County Charter, our county constitution.  And Shirley Forslof was our county auditor at that time.  

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