The special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee for a month could cost Washington state about $1 million after the expense of educating voters about the confusing ballot situation is factored, officials said Friday.
The Washington Secretary of State’s Office is asking lawmakers for $225,000 to send out postcards to voters explaining the situation, spokesman Dave Ammons said.
Some voters will see two congressional races on the ballot, including a race covering Inslee’s old 1st District to put someone in Congress to finish the final month of his term.
That money will come in addition to an estimated $770,000 the state will spend to reimburse counties for the cost of the special election votes in August and November.
Ammons said the postcard money is critical for voter education, especially since the state would ideally do something more widespread such as TV or radio advertising. He said officials in King County also are considering supporting the voter education effort.
“It’s a bare-bones request,” Ammons said.
Inslee resigned from his seat in March to focus on running for governor. He is facing Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna in what is expected to be a competitive election.
Inslee, a Democrat, has said he delayed his departure in part because of cost considerations, telling KUOW in an interview last month that he didn’t want to “expose the citizens to a $1 million election.”
Had he resigned before March 6, the state would have had to call a special election for the summer to fill his seat for the remainder of the term, which Ammons says would have been more expensive.
A spokeswoman for Inslee did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Dwight Pelz, chairman of the Washington State Democratic Party, questioned the $770,000 cost estimate to run the election. He pointed out that Secretary of State Sam Reed, who oversees elections, is listed as the McKenna campaign’s Thurston County co-chair.
“I’m just suspicious of this number,” Pelz said. “I hate to think it might be a politically motivated number.”
The figure was compiled based on estimates submitted by county auditors in the areas where the 1st District now exists, according to emails provided by the Secretary of State’s Office. King County, for example, estimated that the 1st District election cost would be $600,000 to run both the primary and general election.
Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire and Reed determined earlier this week that the U.S. Constitution requires the state to call a special election to replace Inslee.
The election is made complicated because Congress is going through a redistricting process that reshapes the district boundaries. So people who live in Inslee’s old 1st District boundaries may now live in one of four districts — the 1st, 2nd, 6th or 7th.
Voters living in the overlapping areas will have to vote in one race for someone to finish out Inslee’s term and the other race to select a representative who will begin in January.
Candidates who want to run in both races will have to operate separate campaigns.
The request for an extra $1 million comes as state lawmakers have been straining to fill a half-billion-dollar shortfall.
Ammons said he is hopeful that the Legislature will include some of that money in the budget they are working on in the special session and that the office will need all the money by early next year.