When the King County Council approved a measure last week to add prepaid postage to county ballots, some claimed the move would disadvantage voters in other counties. Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman urged Governor Jay Inslee, a Democrat, to approve $2 million in emergency funding to cover prepaid postage in all Washington counties for this year's elections.
Today, the governor answered that call, but frustrated King County officials in the process.
In a joint announcement Tuesday, Inslee and Wyman announced $1.2 million to fund prepaid ballot return envelopes. That will cover 38 of Washington's 39 counties, leaving King County to cover its own expenses under the plan approved last week. The statewide money will come from salary savings from unfilled positions and "unanticipated existing funds," according to the announcement.
"We are proud that our leadership spurred statewide action to increase voting access across Washington. However, the decision to exclude King County—and only King County—from the state reimbursement plan for prepaid ballot postage is grossly unfair," said King County Elections Director Julie Wise, County Council Chair Joe McDermott, and County Executive Dow Constantine in a statement.
In an interview, McDermott said the state should be funding elections. Although the legislature has considered bills to fund prepaid postage, "that is something Secretary Wyman was not championing in Olympia, to say the least," McDermott said. "Then, when King County stepped out, doing what we could in our own jurisdiction, then the state will step up and fund the other 38 out of 39 counties?"
McDermott said the decision also disadvantages small cities within King County that share the costs of elections, including postage.
Tara Lee, a spokesperson for Inslee, said the decision will "allow other counties to do the same as King County" and create "parity across the counties." Inslee and Wyman plan to ask the state legislature to reimburse King County for its postage expense.
Prepaid postage on ballots is meant to reduce a barrier to voting and increase turnout. Although the postal service says it will deliver ballots without stamps, data from King County Elections shows that pilot projects to offer prepaid postage increased turnout.
The measure approved by the King County Council last week directed $381,000 to the county elections department to fund prepaid postage for the 2018 primary and general elections. The county projected postage will cost about $1 million every two years in the future.