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Pre-paid ballot postage is coming for all of Washington State

After King County passed funding for postage-paid ballots, the state is paying for other counties to follow suit—all but one

Jeff T. Green/Getty Images

Barely a week after the King County Council voted to approve $381,000 to fund prepaid ballot postage for elections, Governor Jay Inslee and Secretary of State Kim Wyman announced a similar measure for the whole state—excluding King County.

Washington State went all vote-by-mail in 2011 (again, following a move made by King County), but it has remained unclear whether or not the post office is obligated to deliver your ballot sans postage. In theory, no postage is needed to mail a ballot in any Washington State county—it’s just requested. In practice, though, it’s kind of at the whim of whoever’s working at the post office that day. In 2012, mailing a King County ballot in worked for Goldy at The Stranger, but in 2016, it did not work for Snohomish County Councilor Hans Dunshee.

King County, a month after a request from King County Elections Director Julie Wise, decided to take the guesswork out of the equation, but Wyman raised concerns that the measure could provide “enhanced access” to the ballot. In response to King County’s effort to fund postage, Wyman requested $2 million in emergency funding last week for prepaid postage statewide.

Wyman and Inslee managed to scrounge up $1.2 million, not quite enough to cover the entire state, so King County was left out of the package. While county leaders are encouraged at the idea of postage-paid ballots, they’re a little miffed that King County is left on the hook for all its own ballots.

“We are proud that our leadership spurred statewide action to increase voting access across Washington,” read a statement from Wise, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and King County Council Chair Joe McDermott. “However, the decision to exclude King County—and only King County—from the state reimbursement plan for prepaid ballot postage is grossly unfair. We urge state leaders to reconsider.”

The state could provide a partial voter subsidy statewide, suggested the group, adding that King County’s 2.2 million residents “already fund a disproportionate share of the state’s budget.”

That could get ironed out if a permanent program is funded, as many state legislators have tried to do for years with little success. This past session, a house bill died in committee.

“We’ll be working with legislators to secure ongoing funding funding, establish a permanent statewide program, and ensure King County is reimbursed for their proactive work on this effort,” said Inslee in a statement. He and Wyman announced they’d be working to get a state bill passed to make funding permanent in 2019.

In addition to being, in principle, more accessible—some compare the stamp needed to mail in a ballot to a poll tax—there is some evidence of prepaid ballot postage working to boost voter turnout. A King County Elections experiment last year sent prepaid ballots to just under 9,000 Vashon Island voters during a special school board election. Voter turnout rose to 52 percent. Statewide, turnout for February 2018 special elections was around 32 percent.