Gov. Inslee signs bill to fully fund elections
OLYMPIA – Today Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law HB 2421, which fully funds state elections.
The Washington State House and Senate voted almost unanimously to fully fund elections in Washington State by passing HB 2421. The bill corrects a decades-long system in which local governments paid for their own elections, but counties paid the state's share in even years.
"Election officials statewide are elated," said Mary Hall, Thurston County Auditor, who chaired the funding effort. "In the midst of a complicated and controversial Presidential Primary, and the 2020 Presidential election next November, now was the right time for the legislature to stand with elections officials."
HB 2421 will require the state to reimburse counties their pro-rated share of election costs when state and federal candidates are on the ballot in even-numbered years. The bill also changes how prepaid postage is funded. Instead of being paid by the state for every election, return postage will be included as an election cost to all jurisdictions, making it much more equitable.
The state began requiring local governments to reimburse county auditors for conducting their elections in the early 1950s. In the 70s the state agreed to pay for initiatives and referendums in odd numbered years, but still didn't reimburse counties when state and federal candidates were on the ballot in even years.
"County budgets have been stretched to the limits as local elections officials absorb the costs of conducting all elections for local, state, and federal offices," said Rep. Gael Tarleton (D-Ballard), sponsor of the bill. "By having the state start paying its fair share and cover the costs of statewide elections, we can free up funds for counties to conduct voter outreach and education, helping to increase participation in our democracy."
"We've done a lot of work in recent years to expand access to elections through prepaid ballot postage, same-day voter registration, and more," said Sen. Sam Hunt (D-Olympia), who sponsored a similar bill in the senate. "But all that work costs money, and our county auditors have been asking for funding for even-year elections for decades. It's time for the state to provide county governments with a stable funding source."
"I'm very grateful for Auditor Hall's leadership in making sure all relevant jurisdictions pay their fair share for election costs," said Rep. Beth Doglio, (D-Olympia), the bill's co-sponsor. "It's a huge burden on counties to require them to foot the bill for the most expensive elections—even year elections when legislative, statewide, and federal elections all appear on the same ballot. The state needs to pay its fair share. With HB 2421, that will finally happen."
"Elections are critical infrastructure. County auditors and elections officials are facing intense pressure to run smooth, secure and efficient elections," Hall said. "Underfunding elections in years when our costs are the highest put a massive burden on counties."
Since the 2016 election, the Thurston County Auditor's Office has been spending a tremendous amount of resources to secure elections. "Our cybersecurity efforts are not a one-time cost, they are ongoing costs, Hall said. "Now is not the time to underfund elections."
Election funding reimbursement will also help the financial security of counties. "In addition to being the chief election official for the county, I'm also the chief financial officer," Hall said. "Thurston County's fund balance is declining, and it is simply because of how our county is funded. Property taxes are capped at 1% which doesn't keep pace with inflation and sales tax is the only other source of revenue we have. Now more than ever we need to charge the state for services."