On Friday, I received a routine letter from King County Elections requesting that I complete a form to update my signature for their records, to minimize the possibility that there will be any issues verifying my ballot in future elections.
While my signature was not challenged in the November 2015 general election, it has been over ten years since I registered to vote, so I wasn’t too surprised to be asked to update it. As King County Elections notes:
Signatures may change for many reasons, such as a name change, the passage of time, physical changes or simply changing the way you sign your name. Each election we compare the signature on your return ballot envelope to the signature from your voter registration file. A ballot may only be counted if we can find a match between these two signatures.
Emphasis is mine.
I promptly filled out the form and went to put it in the provided return envelope. Out of habit, I was on the verge of peeling off a stamp to put on the envelope when I noticed something: the postage had already been prepaid!
See for yourself:
King County Elections is using Business Reply Mail to ensure that voters don’t need a stamp in order to return their signature update forms. Bravo! Why can’t Business Reply Mail be used for ballots, as well? California’s Santa Clara County is doing it:
Under direction from the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, the Registrar of Voters will include a new postage-paid return envelope with every Vote by Mail ballot. Previously, voters had to pay the cost of return postage, frequently exceeding a single first-class stamp.
Noting that Santa Clara is only the second California county to provide postage-paid Vote by Mail ballots, Ms. Bushey stated, “There is no more important action in a democracy than voting. The Registrar of Voters’ Office is dedicated to promoting democratic participation. We are passionate about increasing voter turnout and we hope that, by providing prepaid postage on Vote by Mail ballots, we will make it easier for busy residents to vote.”
Would this cost money? Yes, of course it would. But it would be worth it. Requiring voters to put a stamp on their return ballot packets is an impediment to voting. It should be our goal to remove as many impediments to voting as possible.
The Postal Service and King County Elections don’t like admitting it, but they already have an unofficial policy of accepting and processing return ballot packets that are dropped into the mail without a First Class stamp and return address.
It is certainly true that King County Elections sends far fewer signature update letters in a given year than ballots. Ballots have to be mailed to all active voters on the rolls, and there were 1,193,706 active voters in King County as of November 2nd, 2015, and three countywide elections held (in April, August, and November).
But not all voters return ballots, and a significant percentage of King County voters who do return ballots (124,837 of 474,363 in 2015) take them to a drop box.
We ought to be able to budget the cost of paying for return postage for the remainder of voters who prefer to return their ballot via USPS.
Now, there is the issue of postmarks. In Washington State, people can drop ballots into the mail as late as the last outgoing collection time on Election Day. King County Elections has to know when a ballot went into the postal stream… otherwise it doesn’t know whether to count it or not. But surely a solution to this problem can be found by working with the United States Postal Service.
Perhaps newly-elected King County Elections Director Julie Wise can make implementation of this worthy idea a priority once she takes over from her current boss Sherril Huff, who is leaving office in a few weeks.