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.
King County Executive Dow Constantine holds up a ballot return envelope that says “No postage necessary if mailed in the United States.” County officials plan to implement prepaid postage on ballot return envelopes for all voters in time for this year’s August and November elections.
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.