How the legislature impacted the Thurston County Auditor's office this year
By: Mary Hall

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

20190510_195244.jpgOne of the great things about being the Auditor in Thurston County is that I serve our state's capital city. During session I speak to legislators about bills county auditors support. When I testify, I speak to the interests of the voters I represent. I also provide insight into the day-to-day operations in my office.

Here are a few highlights from this year's session:

Presidential primary

For the first time ever, all of the presidential delegates for the two major parties in our state will be chosen through a direct public primary next spring. Over 100 years after primaries first began, Washington voters will have a direct hand in the presidential nomination process.

The state legislature passed SB 5273 to change some provisions of the primary law (including moving the date to the second Tuesday in March). The 2020 presidential primary will be on March 10.

I'm excited the legislature chose to move the date earlier. It will increase the importance of Washington State, bring candidates to our state and make our votes more meaningful.

The more relevant and important we can make our primary in the presidential landscape, the more likely we are to see increased engagement in the presidential primary election. This is a good thing.

Address confidentiality for property records

Probably the most meaningful bill for me this year was a measure to assist in protecting survivors of domestic violence and criminal justice employees who have been threatened or harassed because of their work. 

As a county auditor, I can protect voter registration records and marriage records, but I can't protect land records when Address Confidentiality Program (ACP) participants want to buy a home.

HB 1643 requires the Address Confidentiality Program (ACP) to contract with the Office of Civil Legal Aid to provide assistance to those needing help shielding their property records to keep their address private. More needs to be done, but this is a start.

I lost a sister to domestic violence. I will continue working for better ways to protect survivors' addresses and property records to ensure they stay safe.

Prepaid postage

After the last-minute decision a year ago to fund postage for ballots, the state legislature enshrined that decision by passing a bill that requires all ballot return envelopes to include prepaid postage. Paying for postage on ballots removes another barrier to voting and ensures consistent handling of ballots in counties with overlapping congressional and legislative districts.

The Native American Voting Rights Act

At the same time the Thurston County Auditor's Office was opening a new drop box for the Nisqually Tribe last fall, Native American voters in North Dakota were being disenfranchised.

In reaction to those efforts, Senator John McCoy proposed the Native American Voting Rights Act. This bill will ensure that the mass disenfranchisement we've seen in other states does not happen here. The bill will expand ballot drop box locations and voter registration on tribal lands. It also allows for nontraditional residential addresses and the use of tribal identification for voter registration.

Election funding for counties

One thing we didn't accomplish was to deal with how state and local governments pay for their elections. Currently, all levels of local government reimburse the county for the prorated cost of their elections. But the state of Washington only pitches in for their costs of elections during odd years. This means when congressional and state-level elections are held your county government is left to pick up the tab.

Thurston County paid almost $600,000 for the state's share of state and federal elections in 2018! That's money we could have spent on cybersecurity, social programs, law and justice, or environmental protection.

Two bills would have tackled this disparity (HB 1291 and SB 5073). I and many other county auditors testified in support of these bills, but neither moved after passing out of their policy committees.

Local governments now face the looming threat of cyberattacks. We know that every penny we save is a penny we can spend keeping our communities safe from cyberattacks. We have to invest in cybersecurity tools and we have to pay for elections.

This threat has been underlined by the support of our local congressional delegation for HR 2130 – the State Cyber Resiliency Act. I was glad to see Rep. Denny Heck joined Rep. Derek Kilmer in supporting this effort to point more resources to local governments. Leaving elections underfunded in Washington State while election administrators are preparing against cyberattacks is a contradiction we need to deal with.

Paying for both elections and cybersecurity protection is proving to be a challenge. We'll work on these bills again next year. Wish me luck.