Last August, Crosscut — in the person of your humble correspondent — noted a glaring disparity in the provision of a small public amenity with big meaning in the democratic process. In that month’s primary elections, King County offered 19 ballot drop-off sites. Seven were in Seattle: two downtown, one in West Seattle, four north of the Ship Canal — and none on Capitol Hill or in Southeast Seattle or the Central District, with their large shares of minority residents. These neighborhoods have about 28 percent of the city’s population and relatively few post offices and mailboxes.
Before that, the county offered Southeast Seattle drop sites in just two of 17 elections. When queried about the disparity, elections director Sherril Huff noted that there were also drop boxes in Renton, Burien and Maple Valley — not much help if you live on Beacon Hill or MLK Way.
We can’t say whether that story had anything to do with what happened next. But we can thank Huff and her office for doing the right thing. For the February 14 Seattle Schools levy vote, they deployed a ballot drop-off van to the Rainier Community Center in the heart of Southeast Seattle. "We're trying to go where the need is," says Huff's assistant Diana Sutherland; the fact that this was a Seattle-only election made it appropriate to add a drop-off there. At the same time, however, they eliminated one of the North End drop-offs they'd previously offered, at North Seattle Community College.
The need Sutherland refers to may not be obvious from the returns in the February vote: The Rainier Center received fewer ballots than any other drop-off site. That may reflect the fact that it the Center is relatively secluded, and that it's around the corner from the Columbia City Post Office, where voters already go to mail their ballots. Or maybe South Enders just need a couple more elections to get used to having someplace to exercise their right to vote without paying for a stamp.