No Stamp? No Problem! The Metropolitan King County Council today approved legislation allowing the Department of Elections to send voters postage-paid envelopes to return their ballots in this year’s primary and general elections.
“Increasing accessibility to free and fair democratic elections is central to all of our civic institutions,” said Councilmember Dave Upthegrove, chair of the council’s Budget Committee and prime sponsor of the legislation. “This measure puts a ballot box at the end of every driveway, and I’m excited to be a part of its passage.”
“Voting is the foundation of our democracy. By eliminating the postage ‘poll tax,’ King County is taking an important step to dismantle a barrier that keeps some from exercising their right to vote,” said Councilmember Rod Dembowski, co-sponsor of the ordinance.
Washington became a vote-by-mail state in 2011. While the Council and King County Elections worked to increase the number of ballot drop boxes available to voters throughout the county, approximately half of the ballots received are still sent by mail. Prior to today’s action all voters were personally required to place postage on their ballot.
In prior elections, when a voter forgot to place on stamp on a ballot, some post offices would send the ballot to King County regardless, but would charge the county $1.70—more than three times the current postage rate. Other post offices would not forward the ballot at all.
“We should be doing everything in our power to improve access to democracy countywide and I am confident that prepaid postage will go a long way towards doing just that by breaking down barriers to participation,” said Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, co-sponsor of the ordinance. “I’m confident that our action today will result in prepaid postage on ballots being implemented statewide.”
“Prepaid postage has been proven to increase voting in a cost-effective way,” Said King County Council Vice Chair Claudia Balducci. “I commend our King County Elections Director for continually looking for ways to improve voter participation in our elections, which is so fundamental to our democratic form of self-government.”
The measure is widely expected to increase voter access and participation. Elections conducted a pilot project this winter, sending 65,000 voters in Shoreline and Maple Valley prepaid return envelopes. The percentage of total ballots returned by mail during the pilot was 74-percent. This was a vast increase compared to 43-percent participation in the 2016 General Election.
The legislation now allows election officials to send prepaid return envelopes to all voters, but with the US Postal Service charging King County a rate of 50 cents for those returned by mail. Wise and county election officials estimate a 10 percent increase in the number of ballots returned by mail rather than drop boxes with prepaid postage.
The legislation passed Council with a 7-2 vote. In support of the measure were Councilmembers Upthegrove, Dembowski, Kohl-Welles, Balducci, Gossett, McDermott and von Reichbauer. Councilmembers Dunn and Lambert voted in opposition.