In a joint effort with all 38 of the other county auditors in the state, Cowlitz County Auditor Carolyn Fundingsland Monday released a statement pressuring the state Legislature to pay its “fair share” of election costs.
All three Cowlitz County Commissioners — Joe Gardner, Dennis Weber and Arne Mortensen — have also signed the letter in support and are expected to discuss it during their meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the Cowlitz County Administration Building at 207 Fourth Ave. N, Kelso.
Conducting elections on behalf of every level of government is expensive, Fundingsland said in the press release, because it requires counties have election security and updated registration and ballot-counting systems for the state’s 4.4 million registered voters.
On each ballot there may be a mixture of districts such as the county, cities or schools, she said, and they each pay a portion of the election costs based on the number of registered voters within their boundaries.
The state, however, is only required to pay a prorated share of the costs for primaries or general elections in odd-numbered years, when state officers or measures are on the ballot, or for costs related to filling federal vacancies.
“The state Legislature has decided to ‘dine and dash’ during even years, when the vast majority of their state offices are on the ballot. Despite being given multiple opportunities to do the right thing and change the law, the state instead sticks your cash-strapped county government with the bill,” Fundingsland said in the release.
Rep. Jim Walsh, an Aberdeen Republican, introduced a House bill this year requiring the state to reimburse a prorated share of election costs to counties for primary and general elections in even-numbered years, and all federal primary and general election costs.
However, the House bill and its Senate companion bill both stalled in committee. With the legislative session scheduled to end on Sunday, county auditors are making a final push this week to try and get the legislation passed, Fundingsland said.
Proponents of the Fair Share Election Funding bill say it is an attempt to fund “unfunded mandates” from the state. Multiple supporters from various auditor’s offices testified in January in the House Committee on State Government and Tribal Relations and the Senate Committee on State Government, Tribal Relations and Elections. No one testified against the bill, according to legislative documents.
“Same-day voter registration, more ballot drop boxes, and pre-paid postage are important additions to help improve voter access. However, they are costly additions that have been mandated by your state legislators,” Fundingsland said in the release. “They are either not funded fully or not funded at all, creating more unfunded mandates to county government who already struggle to meet other obligations in providing public health services, law enforcement, courts, and a myriad of other statutorily and constitutionally required programs and services.”
With the 2020 election expected to be the most contentious election in Washington state’s history, she said, “Now more than ever, we must support secure, transparent, and accessible elections.”