Four more ballot drop boxes are needed in Bellingham. They can be quickly built and installed in time for the November general election. Any one of three county government departments need to act: the county executive, the auditor, or the council. And they need to act this month, in August. Now. this week. It is urgent.
I have spoken with our auditor and she is adamantly against any more drop boxes - despite the chaos at some boxes and the insufficiency of the present boxes. Why? She told me it is because she thinks with postage-free mailing, the need for drop boxes will decrease.
And she is very, very wrong - by her own department’s numbers. In our primary election on August 4, 65%, almost 2/3rds, of all ballots were returned via the drop boxes. This is an increase of 15% over 2019, which had an increase over the 2018 drop box use. Paid postage on ballots started with the 2018 primary, so the trend is going the opposite direction of the auditor’s thinking.
Here is the setup. There are , with 14 in the rural areas and small towns, and four in Bellingham. Half of our county’s voters live in Bellingham, so they are already under served. But it gets worse. Two of the four are located on college campuses, at Western and the community college. They are out of the way, away from drive up or even parking. Even the auditor’s website directions to the drop box at Western will direct you, in error, to the other end of the campus. These two drop boxes are for students and are seriously inconvenient for the rest of us.
So, Bellngham has two useable drop boxes - one at the courthouse and the other at the Sehome Village Shopping Center. The logic of no more drop boxes in Bellingham quickly fades.
For years, I promoted to our previous auditor that Bellingham needed more drop boxes, but she also adamantly refused to place them. I did not write about it, but it bothered me. It was almost making it easy for our Republican leaning rural areas to vote while making it difficult for Democratic leaning Bellingham voters to get their ballots to a drop box. Well, if you think that a divisive statement, then come up with another rational for this abject disconnect between the need for and lack of drop boxes for half the county’s population. Regardless of motivation, this is the end result.
Furthermore, the United States president admits he is trying to slow down mail delivery to hamper voter turnout - in the belief that higher voter turnout favors liberal candidates. And thus more voters are making sure they use a drop box to ensure their vote is counted.
Is the mail getting slower? We have one ongoing test. The Whatcom Watch is mailed to subscribers each month. In the past it arrived in two to four days of being mailed. On July 31 the August Watches were mailed. I did not receive mine until August 16, and according to Bill McCallum of the Watch, some subscribers had still not received their copies by Thursday, Aug 20. What happened? Who knows. They got stuck somewhere in the postal system. The point is that the reductions in mail processing in Seattle have already impacted the delivery of mail in Bellingham. Even mailing a week before the election might not be sufficient. Thus, voters are dropping their ballots in the drop boxes.
A side note on our postal service. Our Constitution directs Congress, in Article 1, Sec 8, “To establish Post Offices and post Roads;” just as it also directs, “To provide and maintain a Navy;” We do not expect our Navy to turn a profit, it is a need for our country. So too, should be the postal service - it is a service, not a business, hence the name. It is a need for a civilized nation.
Before Congress last week, the new postal director promised to stop removing mailboxes and mail sorting machines until after the election. He promised this after slating nearly 700 sorting machines to come offline by Aug 1, with directions not to re-install them before the election. He promised to give ballots priority attention. Well - this is a Trump appointee promising. These promises are worth absolutely nothing. This director could be fired in September and replaced by someone who will slow down the mail. This sort of action is routine with this administration.
So. Many ballots may be stamped late and not counted. Even with an election day postmark, many ballots may not be delivered for a week or more until after the auditor’s legal deadline for accepting and counting ballots. We are in a setup. We cannot depend on the U.S. Postal Service. Yet the auditor is trying to force us to do just that.
We need four new ballot drop boxes at each of the four corners of Bellingham. As : “Four new drop boxes: one at I-5 and Fairhaven Parkway; one on Lakeway, perhaps at Yew Street; one on Northwest Ave, perhaps at Birchwood Ave; and one near Sunset Drive or Barkley Village. Those would work, although maybe those locations can be improved on. They are needed. And there is time before the general election.”
Some may say people should vote earlier - days earlier. I say, ‘Why’? We used to all vote on a single day - Election Day. We now need sufficient drop boxes to allow us to vote when we want. Especially when even voting two weeks ahead of the election might still result in our ballot not being counted if mailed with our postal service.
The auditor has told me the Sehome drop box will be replaced with a larger capacity box. That fails to address the problem. Look at the photo. Over 30 cars are lined up and waiting, up to 10 minutes, to drop off their ballots. People abandoning their cars and running over to drop off their ballots. We are not a third world nation. We should have infrastructure for voting. Drop boxes are not budget busters. A little secret: The county auditor representative did the right thing on the evening of Tuesday, Aug 4, - he kept taking ballots after 8 p.m. - until about 10 past 8 p.m. - from the many voters who had been in line for up to 10 minutes. He did the right thing. He should not have to violate the law to enable honest citizens to vote. This is chaos in the making. It will be worse on November 3, in the dark, more people voting, and probably in the rain. Chaos.
Fourteen drop boxes for 80,000 rural voters and two usable drop boxes for 70,000 Bellingham voters. Absurd.
In closing. Gentle reader, contrary to what many believe, publishing an article does not have any impact on elected officials. They will wait to see if this article has any impact with you, the citizens of Bellingham. Unless you let county officials know that you take this article seriously and they should also, nothing will happen. In 25 years of writing on this website I have learned that. All I can do is inform you. If you think we need more ballot drop boxes then you have to take the message to Whatcom County Auditor Diana Bradrick, or Executive Satpal Sidhu, or the County Council through your district representative. I’ve done my research, spent many hours over weeks on this, and now this issue is in your hands. That is how democracy works with a free press. Time is short. We need more ballot drop boxes now.