No postage necessary
No postage necessary

Pre­paid postage on bal­lot return envelopes may not have been one of the Access to Democ­ra­cy reforms passed by the Leg­is­la­ture dur­ing this year’s incred­i­bly pro­duc­tive short ses­sion, but it looks like vot­ers might be get­ting it any­way — and in time for the midterms! — if Wash­ing­ton Sec­re­tary of State Kim Wyman prevails.

Wyman, the state’s chief elec­tions offi­cial, announced today that she is ask­ing Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee to grant her emer­gency fis­cal author­i­ty to pro­vide pre­paid bal­lot return envelopes to all Wash­ing­ton vot­ers for both the August Top Two elec­tion (August 7th) and the Novem­ber gen­er­al elec­tion (Novem­ber 6th).

Imple­men­ta­tion of this idea would remove a long­stand­ing bar­ri­er to vot­ing and like­ly increase turnout by a mea­sur­able amount, some­thing we’ve been agi­tat­ing for here on the Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate (and in oth­er venues) for years.

It did­n’t seem like pre­paid postage was in the cards for 2018 until a few weeks ago, when King Coun­ty offi­cials (Exec­u­tive Dow Con­stan­tine, Coun­cilmem­ber Rod Dem­bows­ki, Elec­tions Direc­tor Julie Wise) tri­umphant­ly announced leg­is­la­tion to ful­ly imple­ment it for this year’s sum­mer and autumn elec­tions… in King County.

That spurred Wyman into action.

Today, she appeared before the King Coun­ty Coun­cil in sup­port not only of bring­ing pre­paid bal­lot return envelopes to King Coun­ty, but every­where else, too.

Here’s a copy of her pre­pared remarks:

Mr. Chair­man, Mem­bers of the Coun­cil, for the record, I am Kim Wyman, Wash­ing­ton Sec­re­tary of State, here today to tes­ti­fy on the pro­posed ordi­nance to require King Coun­ty to pay for the return postage of mail-in ballots.

I com­mend you, the coun­cil and Julie Wise for tak­ing on this issue. This is anoth­er great exam­ple of Julie being at the fore­front of elec­tions issues and why she is an out­stand­ing Direc­tor of Elections.

I have always sup­port­ed ini­tia­tives that increase vot­er access and turnout. For exam­ple, this last leg­isla­tive ses­sion, I sup­port­ed the imple­men­ta­tion of auto­mat­ic vot­er reg­is­tra­tion, pre-reg­is­ter­ing six­teen and sev­en­teen year-olds… and leg­is­la­tion pro­posed by Sen­a­tor Hasegawa that would have imple­ment­ed pre­paid postage statewide.

When it comes to pre­paid postage, I believe two com­po­nents are nec­es­sary – one, that it be imple­ment­ed statewide; and two, that it cov­er every elec­tion. The rea­son for this is that it’s impor­tant we treat every vot­er in the state fair­ly and equal­ly and that we do not cre­ate con­fu­sion among vot­ers about how they can participate.

That’s why I have also been work­ing with a mem­ber of our con­gres­sion­al del­e­ga­tion to explore fed­er­al leg­is­la­tion to allow for pre-paid bal­lot return to address the chal­lenges of get­ting a post­mark on such ballots.

I have some rec­om­men­da­tions I want to make to the coun­cil as you con­sid­er this ordinance.

The real­i­ty is, while this deci­sion may appear to only affect King Coun­ty vot­ers, it has a statewide impact on the remain­ing thir­ty-eight coun­ties. For the fall 2018 elec­tions, we will have one statewide race (U.S. Sen­ate), the poten­tial for one or more statewide bal­lot ini­tia­tives, two pos­si­ble advi­so­ry votes, eight con­gres­sion­al dis­tricts and forty-nine leg­isla­tive dis­tricts on the bal­lot, along with coun­ty and local races and issues. With 1.2 mil­lion reg­is­tered vot­ers, King Coun­ty accounts for about one third of our state’s 4.2 mil­lion reg­is­tered voters.

Fur­ther, in August and Novem­ber, there will races in five leg­isla­tive dis­tricts (1, 30, 31, 32 and 39) and two con­gres­sion­al dis­tricts (1 and 8) in King Coun­ty which also cross into one or more oth­er coun­ties. This deci­sion should not be made in a vac­u­um because the impacts will not remain in a vacuum.

First, this will cre­ate con­fu­sion with vot­ers in the shared media mar­ket who will not receive pre­paid postage.

My inter­est with this pro­posed ordi­nance is when it comes to return­ing a bal­lot to the coun­ty elec­tions office, that vot­ers in King Coun­ty will be treat­ed dif­fer­ent­ly in the upcom­ing pri­ma­ry and gen­er­al elec­tions than vot­ers in the remain­ing thir­ty-eight coun­ties. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, many, if not most of the oth­er thir­ty-eight coun­ties don’t have abil­i­ty to pay for return postage in their fall elections.

We have a num­ber of dis­tressed coun­ties who are fac­ing sig­nif­i­cant bud­get reduc­tions this year. I know of at least two coun­ty auditor’s offices who have received 6–12% cuts to their bud­gets in the past cou­ple of months. If the coun­cil delays this deci­sion today, I ask you to join me in going to the leg­is­la­ture and ask­ing them to fund the cost of pre­paid bal­lot return postage for the entire state for all elections.

If the coun­cil approves this ordi­nance today, I ask this coun­cil to join me in ask­ing the Gov­er­nor to give my office the emer­gency spend­ing author­i­ty to reim­burse all thir­ty-nine coun­ties, includ­ing King Coun­ty, for the return postage costs for the 2018 [Top Two] and Gen­er­al elec­tions, esti­mat­ed to be $622,602 in the [Top Two] and $1,156,261 in the Gen­er­al, for a total of $1,778,863. This becomes an emer­gency because the coun­ties need to imme­di­ate­ly begin print­ing return bal­lot envelopes for the fall elec­tions. Thank you for the oppor­tu­ni­ty to speak to this issue and I am hap­py to answer questions.

We agree with Sec­re­tary Wyman that imple­ment­ing pre­paid postage for bal­lot return envelopes imme­di­ate­ly makes sense, and that all Wash­ing­ton vot­ers should ben­e­fit — not just vot­ers in King County.

We also agree that this sit­u­a­tion con­sti­tutes an emer­gency. King Coun­ty wants to lead on remov­ing a bar­ri­er to vot­ing, which is out­stand­ing, but there are oth­er coun­ties that would like to do the same for their vot­ers, yet can’t afford to. The appro­pri­ate rem­e­dy, giv­en the Leg­is­la­ture has gone home for the year, is there­fore for Sec­re­tary Wyman to make this request, and for Gov­er­nor Inslee to say yes.

Now is the time to do this.

This is a fair­ly unprece­dent­ed era in our coun­try. The upcom­ing midterms are crit­i­cal­ly impor­tant.… so much is at stake. The out­come will deter­mine whether our coun­try con­tin­ues down a very dark road, or makes a course correction.

We have the mon­ey to get rid of this bar­ri­er to vot­ing and take anoth­er step towards arrest­ing (and revers­ing!) our alarm­ing trend of declin­ing turnout.

We are very pleased that Sec­re­tary Wyman is step­ping up and propos­ing a tan­gi­ble plan for bring­ing pre­paid postage on bal­lot return envelopes to all vot­ers this year. This is lead­er­ship. This is what we’ve been want­i­ng to see from Sec­re­tary Wyman.

This is also the per­fect fol­low-up to the Access to Democ­ra­cy page, which the League of Women Vot­ers, Fix Democ­ra­cy First, NPI, and a large coali­tion of oth­er orga­ni­za­tions worked so hard to make a real­i­ty this past ses­sion. That was a great accom­plish­ment, but it did not include pre­paid postage on return envelopes.

Gov­er­nor Inslee, please grant this request and let’s make this hap­pen for our vot­ers this year. We can afford to do this, and it’s the just and respon­si­ble thing to do.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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