Tonight, I am planning to drop off my ballot at one of King County Elections’ 24-hour dropboxes. I could mail it, but prefer to drop it off and know for sure that it will be received. Unfortunately for me, while there are dropboxes all over the county, there are none in any part of Southeast Seattle. There are also vans (with more limited hours) in several places to collect ballots. Once again, there are none in Southeast Seattle.
The nearest dropboxes to us are downtown and in Renton. There is also the West Seattle drop van, which closes at 5 p.m. And there is an accessible voting center (where you can also deposit ballots) at Union Station, but that also has limited hours.
Voting by mail is, generally, an improvement that promotes more participation in the voting process than the old polling system. But we should not assume that it has solved all accessibility issues, nor that vote-by-mail means that dropboxes are unnecessary. At the very least, it is not right to require payment (even of a mere stamp) to vote. But there are other reasons dropboxes are useful. For example, the polls are open until 8 p.m. on Election Day, and last minute votes are just as valid and acceptable as any others. (Otherwise, we’d close the polls earlier.) In most areas, there is no way to get something mailed that late, so a dropbox is the only way to vote in the late afternoon or early evening on November 6.
There used to be more dropboxes in the city, but King County Elections had to remove many of them to save money. Saving taxpayer money is good, but shouldn’t every quadrant of the city (at least) have a dropbox, or at least a van? North of downtown, there are three options, all north of the canal: two dropboxes and a van at the University of Washington. South of downtown, there is only the limited-hours van in West Seattle. Shouldn’t there at least be an attempt at equity here?
I know not every neighborhood can have a dropbox. It’s a problem that we provide so few of them, but I understand that with current financial reality King County Elections cannot put dropboxes everywhere we might want them. But shouldn’t there be an attempt to distribute them fairly? And wouldn’t it make sense to put dropboxes in a part of the city that has many lower-income voters who may prefer to use a dropbox to save a stamp, or who may not have easy automotive access to dropboxes further away?
For those of us in North Beacon Hill, the downtown dropbox is not too far a trip. But Southeast Seattle is a large area, and it’s not as easy for everyone to get downtown as it is for most of us on North Beacon. If Magnuson Park can host a dropbox — one of three locations north of the Ship Canal — Southeast Seattle ought to at least warrant the presence of a van to pick up ballots in future elections.
(While we’re at it, Bellevue and Mercer Island residents could use one too.)