Print – at least in the form of a voters pamphlet – is dead at Spokane County.
But if a west side state senator has his way, all counties would be forced to bring the mailing back to life. The only problem, according to Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton, is that there’s no money, or personnel, to do the work anymore.
“Besides the cost of the pamphlet and mailing it, there’s no longer enough staff to perform this function,” Dalton told county commissioners on Tuesday.
Dalton said Senate Bill 6797, which received its first reading in Olympia on Tuesday, would make the printing and mailing of voters pamphlets mandatory, with the cost borne by the affected counties and the jurisdictions therein. That means, for example, that school and fire districts along with municipalities like Spokane Valley would be forced to pay for producing voters pamphlets, along with the cost of the election itself, in the future.
“It’s definitely an unfunded mandate,” Dalton said.
The cost of producing voters pamphlets typically runs between $30,000 for a smaller election, such as a fire levy, up to $100,000 in a presidential election. In last November’s general election, Dalton – who was developing her 2010 budget – opted to not produce a printed pamphlet and instead put the same voter information online on the county’s Web site.
Dalton told commissioners that during the 2007 and 2008 general election, the cost of producing a statewide voters guide – which also included information on local races – were paid for under a federal grant called the Help America Vote Act. That funding, however, is no longer available for a printed guide but was last year for the online version.
With the understanding a mailed guide was a thing of the past, Dalton eliminated the staff member who handled that work while paring down her budget for this year.
“We no longer have the personnel,” she said.
On the whole, Spokane County laid off 149.6 positions at the end of last year and was faced with a $13 million drop in revenue from 2008.
Dalton said the bill was moving quickly and she hoped the commissioners would support a lobbying effort to oppose a new law that would make the mailed pamphlets mandatory. Board Chairman Mark Richard was not present for the meeting, but the move was supported by Commissioners
Todd Mielke and Bonnie Mager.