Lawmakers want to eliminate postage for voters

Less than half of Snohomish County, Mukilteo voters mailed in ballots in 2018
By Madeline Coats, WNPA Olympia News Bureau | Jan 23, 2019
Snohomish County Elections Manager Garth Fell

A proposed law requested by Gov. Jay Inslee would provide prepaid postage for all election ballots in the state of Washington.

Since 2011, all state elections have been conducted by mail, leaving voters responsible for paying the return postage, unless drop box locations are available in their county.

Senate Bill 5063, co-sponsored by Sen. Joe Nguyen, (D-White Center), and Sen. Bob Hasegawa, (D-Beacon Hill), would eliminate that cost.

Inslee and Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman combined forces to secure enough funding for statewide ballot return postage in the 2018 primary and general elections. SB 5063 would require the state to reimburse counties for the cost of return postage on election ballots.

Garth Fell, Snohomish County’s elections manager, thinks the proposed bill is a good idea.

"Voters consistently share with our county staff that they want the option to return their ballot postage paid through the mail,” Fell said. “It's encouraging to see the Legislature consider funding this service."

Jay Jennings, a legislative director for Wyman, said at a hearing Wednesday, Jan. 16, that some county auditor’s offices do not have the funds to meet the demands currently placed on them.

“Many county governments across the state face severe budget challenges because of paying for state election cycles,” said Jennings. “Every two years takes money away from local services, including fire and safety.”

According to the bill, the Legislature finds that voting by mail has many advantages. However, requiring the cost of return postage passes burden on to Washington state citizens. The bill is also intended to increase turnout by lowering all barriers – including the purchase of stamps – for voters.,Mary Hall, auditor for Thurston County, explained the importance of convenience for younger voters.

In the most recent general election, Thurston County had 50 percent of voters send ballots by mail and 50 percent vote by drop box, she said.

“People in college these days don't even know what a stamp is, let alone know where to get one,” said Hall. “I think that prepaid postage is going to be critical if we really want to encourage our younger voters to participate in our democratic process.”

Thurston County’s statistics match up similarly to Snohomish County’s.

In Snohomish County, a state-issued grant provided postage for voters in the 2018 primary and general elections, according to Fell. In the November general election, roughly 49 percent of Snohomish County voters mailed in their ballots, with a slight majority using drop box locations.

In Mukilteo, only 39 percent mailed ballots, with the majority favoring drop boxes, Fell said.

Additionally, the number of Snohomish County voters who returned ballots via mail increased from 39 percent in the 2017 general election to the 2018 election, likely due to the pre-paid postage.






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