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.