King County Elections is testing pre-paid postage with the February 14 special elections in the City of Maple Valley and the Shoreline School District. Ballot packets were mailed on Wednesday to voters in both jurisdictions. Each packet includes a return envelope with the postage already paid.
“This is something I’ve wanted to test since I ran for office,” said Julie Wise, King County Elections Director. “Pre-paid postage is another tool to remove barriers to voting and increase convenience – and this pilot will help us understand what it might look like for King County.”
King County Elections is paying for the postage, which will cost about $3,300 for Maple Valley and about $9,000 for the Shoreline School District. Elections is charged only for ballots returned through the U.S. Postal Service.
“We are committed to ensuring a secure, accurate and low-barrier elections system that enables every citizen to fully participate in our democracy,” said King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski.
Objectives for the pre-paid postage pilot include understanding whether or not the process works administratively and to see if more voters return their ballots than in previous elections. Ballot packets include an informational insert explaining that the postage on a voter’s return envelope is paid and that they can immediately return their ballots through the U.S. Postal Service. Ballots can also be brought to one of nine drop boxes open for the election.
“This test of pre-paid postage on ballots underscores our continued efforts to expand voter turnout, including quadrupling the number of ballot drop boxes across King County,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “We want voting to be as easy as possible to ensure our policies and institutions reflect the will of the people.”
There are a total of 64,032 registered voters in Maple Valley and the Shoreline School District. King County Elections estimates a 30 percent voter turnout rate.
Maple Valley will vote on a general obligation bond for park and recreation facility improvements. The Shoreline School District, which includes Lake Forest Park, will vote on a school construction bond.
We’re very glad to see this pilot project happening, but there ought to be a commitment to making it permanent for future elections. Lowering barriers to voting must be a priority at both the state and local levels. Voter turnout has been a downward trajectory for years and action is needed to reverse this harmful trend.
Providing ballot return envelopes with prepaid postage simplifies participating in elections because it means voters can simply take their completed ballot to any post office without needing to hunt for — or purchase — a stamp. There shouldn’t be any cost involved in exercising the sacred duty of voting. Requiring stamps to vote by mail is akin to charging a tiny poll tax. It’s a practice that needs to end.
Last year, Democratic Secretary of State challenger Tina Podlodowski (who is now running to become Chair of the Washington State Democratic Party) campaigned on providing funding to implement prepaid postage on return ballots to all of Washington’s thirty-nine counties. Podlodowski was resoundingly backed by King County voters, but came up short in swing counties like Pierce, where Republican incumbent Kim Wyman cruised to reelection with big majorities.