Morning Crank: Bags and Bags of Shredded Ballots

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The new version looks just like a mailbox.

1. The King County council voted 7-2—with one Republican, Pete Von Reichbauer, joining the council’s six Democrats—to spend up to $381,000 next year on postage-paid ballots for this year’s midterm and general elections. King County voters have voted exclusively by mail, or by dropping their ballots at designated drop boxes, since 2009, but it has been voters’ responsibility to buy stamps for their ballots. Voting rights advocates have argued that the postage requirement is burdensome for younger voters (who are less likely to have stamps) and very low-income voters (for whom a 49-cent stamp represents a real impediment to voting); those who oppose providing postage say that it’s voters’ responsibility to make the minimal effort required to buy a stamp, and that those who feel they can’t afford it can just trek to their nearest ballot box.

Before the measure passed, County Council members Kathy Lambert and Reagan Dunn offered several amendments that would have watered down or placed conditions on the legislation, including a proposal by Lambert to clarify that the county measure did not set any “precedent” for the rest of the state. Lambert argued that if voters in King County were able to vote more easily than voters in the rest of the state, it would put other counties, particularly more rural counties with fewer resources that are “hanging on by their fingernails,” at a disadvantage—essentially the same argument offered by Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman when she urged the council to reject the measure one week ago. That amendment failed, as did another Lambert proposal that would have required the county elections office to turn around a complicated report about turnout and ballot box usage three days after the November election was certified. Another, from Republican Reagan Dunn, would put language on the outside of every prepaid ballot encouraging people to put stamps on their ballot anyway, ostensibly in an effort to save King County money. Although King County Elections director Julie Wise made it clear that Dunn’s amendment would almost certainly cost the county far more than it saves (election workers would have to pore over hundreds of thousands of ballots by hand, photocopy them, and mail them to the post office for a refund), the amendment actually passed, after Dunn said the language in his amendment left some wiggle room for the county to reject the idea if it cost too much.

“I like the voters’ drop boxes [because] it’s not shredded, I know it’s in, it’s going to get counted, and I know that there are very few people that are going to handle it.”—King County Council member Kathy Lambert  

Before the final vote, Lambert  offered a strange, last-ditch anecdote to explain why she opposed voting by mail. “I pay my property taxes in person,” Lambert began, because one year when she sent them by mail—she knows it was her anniversary, she said, because she was about to go to Hawaii—and they never made it to the tax assessor’s office. When she went to the post office to find out what had happened, she said, “they brought me out two huge bags of mail that had been shredded, and they said, ‘If you find your check in here, you can take it out and prove that you have found it.’ I hope that we won’t find out later on that there are bags and bags of shredded ballots that have gotten caught in the machinery,” Lambert continued. “I like the voters’ drop boxes [because] it’s not shredded, I know it’s in, it’s going to get counted, and I know that there are very few people that are going to handle it.”

Lambert did not note that voters can track their ballots, and find out whether theirs was counted or “shredded,” at the King County Elections website.

2. A rumor was circulating yesterday that ousted King County Democrats chair (AKA ousted King County Assessor’s office spokesman) Bailey Stober will announce today (or this week) that he is not running for 47th District state representative, despite announcing that he plans to do so in an interview with the Seattle Times. As I reported last week, Stober’s announcement came just two days before Debra Entenman, a deputy field director for Congressman Adam Smith, was planning to formally announce that she would seek the same position with the full support of the House Democratic Campaign Committee. The announcement gave Stober some positive press shortly after he was forced out of two positions of power when four separate investigations concluded he had engaged in sexual harassment, bullying, and multiple acts of workplace and financial misconduct. (Each of the investigations upheld a different combination of allegations).

Stober received a $37,700 settlement from King County in exchange for resigning from his $98,000-a-year position, from which he had been on fully paid leave for most of 2018. On Friday, he posted a photo on Facebook of what he said was his brand-new jeep. “New life new car 💁🏽‍♂️😏 #adulting,” the caption read.

3. Three low-barrier shelters run by the Downtown Emergency Service Center, which were all scheduled to shut down this month, will stay open for the rest of the year, though their fate after that remains uncertain. The shelters—an overnight men’s shelter on Lower Queen Anne, the Kerner-Scott House for mentally ill women in South Lake Union, and DESC’s auxiliary shelter at the Morrison Hotel downtown—lost funding under the new “Pathways Home” approach to funding homeless services, which prioritizes 24/7 “enhanced” shelters over traditional overnight shelters and withholds funding (see page 7) from agencies that fail to move at least 40 percent of their clients from emergency shelter into permanent housing. When the city issued grants under the new criteria, it increased DESC’s overall funding but eliminated funding for the three overnight shelters. All told, about 163 shelter beds were scheduled to disappear in May unless DESC could come up with the money to keep them open or another operator stepped forward.

Oddly, the decision to close at least one of the shelters does not appear to have been strictly about money, but about DESC itself. According to a letter HSD sent to concerned community members in mid-April, the city had “HSD reached out to Salvation Army to discuss the possibility of taking over operations of the Roy Street Queen Anne shelter in June when the DESC contract ends. Salvation Army has agreed and is going to have a May-Dec contract so there is some overlap time during the transition.  Shifting operations to the Salvation Army would have required a special budget allocation from the City Council to keep the shelter running under new management for the rest of the year.

DESC’s overall budget request included significant pay increases for all of the agency’s staff, who are unionized but remain notoriously underpaid, even by human service provider standards. DESC’s $8.6 million budget request for its enhanced shelter program included more than $6 million for salaries and benefits—enough to raise an entry-level counselor’s wages from $15.45 an hour to $19.53 and to boost case managers’ salaries from a high of about $38,000 to $44,550 a year. Even those higher salaries remain paltry by private-market standards, but by proposing to implement the raises all at once, DESC inflated its budget request dramatically at precisely the time when the city was looking to cut “fat” from the system and reward programs that promised fast results and cost savings for the city.

The good news for DESC (and the men and women) who use its overnight shelters) is that funding for the shelters appears to be secure for at least the rest of 2018. The bad news is that the reprieve is temporary, and major issues, including low salaries for shelter workers, remain unresolved.

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Morning Crank: This Is Not a Health-Care Facility

Image via 3W Medical

1. Anti-choice activists bombarded King County Board of Health members with hundreds of emails this week opposing a proposed rule change that would require so-called crisis pregnancy centers—fake “clinics” run by anti-choice nonprofits that bait pregnant women with promises of medical care and counseling, then try to talk them out of having abortions, often by providing medically inaccurate information—to disclose the fact that they do not actually provide any health-care services. (CPCs generally provide pregnancy tests and ultrasounds, and may offer samples of formula and diapers. Their main purpose, however, is to frighten women out of terminating even risky pregnancies by providing misinformation about abortion and birth control, including claims that abortion leads to cancer, suicide, and “post-abortion syndrome.”)

The rule change would require anti-abortion pregnancy centers to display a sign on their doors that says, “This facility is not a health-care facility” in at least 48-point type, and to include the disclaimer on all its written materials.

King County Council member Jeanne Kohl-Welles says that in the past week, she has received more than 500 letters from CPC proponents, all with the same pre-written message:

Pregnancy Centers are reputable organizations that provide much-needed services. While special interests may claim that these centers deceive and disrespect women, the facts show otherwise- Care Net of Puget Sound boasts a 99.7% positive response rate from those they have served in King County over the last two years.  Women in crisis need MORE options for health services, not fewer, and it is unconscionable that the Board of Health would pass regulations intended to harm those providing women with the services they need.

That 99.7 percent satisfaction rate isn’t represented in Care Net’s Yelp reviews, which focus on the fact that they don’t provide any actual reproductive health care services. “I can only imagine a scared, or worried person calling about an unintended pregnancy and getting this casual attitude about having a baby and changing your life,” one reviewer write. “Heaven forbid someone be on the wrong end of a crime and need resources like birth control that these people refuse to give.”

Kohl-Welles says the vast majority of the emails have come from outside her district, and many are from people outside King County.

On Monday, county council member Kathy Lambert said she was disturbed by the CPC advocates’ claims that they had not heard about the board of health rule change in advance. The board of health held a public discussion about the proposed rule in June.

The board of health will discuss the rule change at 1:30 tomorrow afternoon in King County Council chambers.

Full disclosure: From April 2015 to April 2017, I was the communications director of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, the pro-choice advocacy group, and currently contract with them for approximately three hours a week.

2. Despite overwhelming support from advocates for veterans, seniors, and homeless King County residents, the county council seems unlikely to support a proposal to increase the Veterans, Seniors, and Human Services levy ballot measure to 12 cents. On Monday, after a dizzying back-and-forth between the county council and a regional policy committee (RPC) that includes representatives from Seattle and several suburban cities, the council tentatively approved a ballot measure that would renew the existing Veterans Levy at 10 cents and expand it to cover seniors and human services for non-veterans, rather than the 12 cents originally proposed by County Executive Dow Constantine.

The measure would also do away with a provision that would have split the levy proceeds evenly between veterans, seniors, and human services, weighting the proceeds more heavily toward veterans. The plan, which the RPC will take up this afternoon, calls for a ten-cent tax, with one third for veterans and one third for human services; the remaining third would be allocated first to senior veterans, until 75 percent of the county’s homeless veterans are housed, at which point the money could be spent on services for non-veteran seniors.

This last, convoluted change came at the behest of council member Rod Dembowski, who has said he would be open to a 12-cent levy but only if a larger percentage of the revenues go to veterans. Kohl-Welles, who has supported the 12-cent, evenly split proposal, said Monday that “I have a lot of trouble saying that one category in our King County population deserves more than other categories—they’r all people.”

After the RPC votes out its own version of the measure—depending on who shows up to vote, the proposal could be 10 or 12 cents, and could be either evenly split or weighted more heavily toward veterans—the measure will move back to the full council, which has to make a decision before the end of the week to avoid triggering a special meeting that will require a six-vote supermajority for any proposal. Council members have been asked to clear their calendars for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday mornings.

3.

Oliver has not voted in a mayoral primary or general election since she registered to vote in King County in 2008.

More on that here.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, phone bills, electronics, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.