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Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Sunday, December 6th, 2015

King County Elections uses Business Reply Mail for signature updates — why not ballots?

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:

Return envelope for King County signature update form

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.

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