UPDATE: The King County Council today approved a measure to offer prepaid postage on ballots for this year’s primary and general elections. “It may sound silly to some of us, but a lot of us aren’t paying bills through the mail or sending correspondence through the mail, so we may not have access to a stamp,” said King County Elections Director Julie Wise, a supporter of prepaid postage.
The measure passed 7-2, with Council Members Reagan Dunn and Kathy Lambert voting no. Supporters said it could increase voter turnout and inspire other counties to follow suit. Dunn and Lambert argued prepaid ballot postage isn’t an urgent need and could hurt smaller counties by setting a precedent.
County Council Member Dave Upthegrove, who voted in favor, said the county “should be reducing any barrier [to voting] we have.”
The King County Council will vote today on whether the county will issue prepaid envelopes with voters' ballots. The proposal faces skepticism from Washington's Republican Secretary of State, Kim Wyman.
The ordinance on today's agenda, sponsored by the county council's six Democrats, would direct $381,000 to the county elections department to fund prepaid postage for the 2018 primary and general elections. The county projects postage will cost about $1 million every two years in the future.
King County Elections would pay only for the postage on those ballots that are returned by mail, not those dropped in ballot boxes or not returned. According to King County Elections, about half of ballots are returned by mail and half in drop boxes.
Paying voters' postage is intended to increase turnout. While ballots now require stamps, the postal service says it delivers ballots without stamps. In a pilot program during the February 2017 special election, King County Elections tested prepaid postage in Shoreline and Maple Valley. Voters returned 74 percent of ballots, compared to 43 percent during the 2016 general election, according to the elections department. Another test in April 2017 among 8,000 registered voters increased turnout by 8 percent.
In a letter to the county council, King County Executive Dow Constantine said prepaid postage "creates more inclusive elections and clearly furthers the goals of Equity and Social Justice in King County." Secretary of State Kim Wyman, meanwhile, testified last week to the county council that she worries King County paying postage without the rest of the state doing the same is unfair. Because some candidates and measures affect voters in multiple counties, Wyman argues providing prepaid postage only in King County disadvantages non-King County voters.
Wyman has since written to Governor Jay Inslee requesting the state reimburse all counties for prepaid postage. A spokesperson for Inslee told the Spokesman Review that the governor supports prepaid postage but is still reviewing whether the state can fund it.