Republican gubernatorial candidate Dave Reichert has latched onto the idea that putting ballot boxes at churches, firing ranges, and gun stores could help ensure free and fair elections this November–and increase conservative voter turnout. Reichert apparently believes that conservatives only leave the house to shoot or pray, and that Republicans need armed vigilantes to protect GOP votes against ballot gremlins or whatever. 

Back in February, Reichert told an audience at a Pierce County GOP endorsement meeting that he supports a plan from Washington State Republican Party Chairman Jim Walsh to buy some ballot boxes and put them “in places where conservative voters go.” Reichert pitched his churches and gun store location ideas. 

“Try to steal a ballot from a gun range. How about a gun shop? Places like that where we know we can protect our votes,” Reichert said, in a video from the endorsement meeting.

Reichert has made similar comments during at least five other campaign events, according to audio recordings obtained by The Stranger as well as an article in The Reflector. Reichert did not respond to a request for comment. 

Reichert’s rhetoric seems mostly like a ploy to turn out the most rabid members of his base on the off chance that they’ll have an opportunity to shoot someone near dropping off a ballot. 

In the video, Reichert makes it sound as if these ballot boxes would be official, but in a text message Walsh said that’s not his intention. He wants to create unofficial ballot boxes that the Washington State GOP or county parties would provide and maintain. 

The plan seems unserious, unnecessary, and fraught for a number of reasons. First of all, stealing ballots from official ballot boxes is very hard. King County Elections Administrator Julie Wise described the boxes as “steel tanks” that can weigh up to 1,000 pounds, and they are bolted into the ground. Crosscut published an excellent piece on the ballot collection process that references another article about a time when an SUV hit a ballot box in Thurston County and failed to even dent the thing. That article goes into further detail about how a person can’t even open the boxes with crowbars. The proposed GOP ballot boxes would be smaller, “But sturdy. Secure. Metal,” Walsh said.

Second of all, at least in King County, ballot boxes are already pretty accessible. According to Wise, about 90% of people live within three miles of a ballot box, and about 76% live within a mile. Nothing in state law prohibits the county from putting a ballot box at a shooting range, but the office would want to understand the specific gap they’d be filling, Wise said. A lot of data goes into ballot box location decisions, and the county tries to put boxes in places with lower voter turnout to encourage people to vote. While King County Elections (KCE) has found a natural partner with libraries, government buildings, and transit hubs, they’ve also put boxes in Safeway parking lots. I think conservatives still buy groceries. 

Finally, ballot box theft remains a stupid and unlikely strategy for trying to change the results of an election. The prospective thief could guess about the politics of nearby neighborhoods, but they wouldn’t know how the voters voted unless they opened up the ballots, and dumping a whole box would risk dumping ballots the thief would presumably want counted. And if anything, locating boxes in areas with high concentrations of Republicans would only make it easier to target those ballots for theft. Though I guess Reichert assumes no one would dare take a ballot from a box surrounded by gun owners, who would all shoot or threaten to shoot any would-be ballot box robbers instead of calling the police? 

Overall, Wise said KCE doesn’t recommend people submit their ballots to unofficial boxes. Pop-up boxes are legal, but if the organization collecting the ballots turns them in late or loses them, then voters have very little recourse to make sure their ballot counts. In general, the election’s office recommends people only trust themselves with their ballot. 

Wise also encourages people to sign up for text messages and emails alerting them about the status of their ballot.