Washington Governor Jay Inslee and Secretary of State Kim Wyman have cobbled together enough emergency funding to ensure that all counties in Washington State can offer prepaid postage on ballot return envelopes this year, Inslee’s office announced in a press release today.
About $600,000 in funding allocated to the governor’s office by legislators will be paired with another $600,000 from Wyman’s office to cover the costs of waiving the cost of postage for all voters outside of King County.
“In this year’s election cycle, five hundred and ninety-six offices are up for election, including U.S. Senator, all ten of Washington’s congressional representatives, more than one hundred and twenty seats in the Legislature, three state Supreme Court justiceships, more than twenty superior and appeals court judgeships, and four hundred and thirty-eight county and local offices,” noted the press release.
“More voter participation makes for a stronger democracy. Because Washington is a vote-by-mail state, pre-paid postage is one important way we can reduce barriers to casting ballots,” said Inslee. “We’ll be working with legislators to secure ongoing funding, establish a permanent statewide program, and ensure King County is reimbursed for their proactive work on this effort.”
“This is about leveling the playing field and making elections equal for all citizens of Washington State,” said Wyman, who supported the King County measure and has supported statewide ballot postage proposals for a number of legislative sessions.
“I want to thank the governor for his collaboration, and I look forward to working with him to get a bill passed in 2019 to make Washington the first state in America with permanent universal postage-paid voting by mail.”
King County leaders promptly expressed annoyance that the state’s largest jurisdiction will have to ask for reimbursement in 2019 rather than receiving money from the state upfront like the other counties.
“We are proud that our leadership spurred statewide action to increase voting access across Washington,” said Executive Dow Constantine, Councilmember Joe McDermott, and Elections Director Julie Wise in a joint statement.
“However, the decision to exclude King County – and only King County – from the state reimbursement plan for prepaid ballot postage is grossly unfair. We urge state leaders to reconsider. If the state cannot afford to fully reimburse all counties for ballot postage, it should provide the same partial, per voter subsidy statewide.”
“Our 2.2 million residents already fund a disproportionate share of the state’s budget,” the three elected leaders noted. “King County will continue to make voting easier and more accessible, and if needed we will go to the Legislature next year to again seek fair treatment for our residents.”
We understand why King County leaders are annoyed, but to them, we say: This is the price of leadership. King County’s people and elected representatives can be very proud that we forced the state executive department into action by implementing a plan to provide prepaid ballot return envelopes this year.
King County can always go back to the Legislature in 2019 and request reimbursement. A substantial number of Washington’s state legislators are from King County, including the current Speaker of the House, House Majority Leader, House Majority Floor Leader, and Senate Majority Leader.
If Democrats remain in control of both houses, as expected, the chances are excellent such a request would be granted.
What’s important right now is not where the money comes from, but that the money has been found to make this happen. It’s a big deal… it means a major barrier to voting has been finally removed, and on a statewide basis.
Coupled with the Access to Democracy package (which includes the Voting Rights Act, same-day voter registration, automatic voter registration, and preregistration), 2018 will go down in our history books as a watershed year for fairer elections.
Democratic State Party Chair Tina Podlodowski is justifiably thrilled that the voting reforms she campaigned on when she ran for Secretary of State two years ago are being implemented at last. The arrival of Democratic State Senator Manka Dhingra in Olympia was the key to the Access to Democracy package, while King County’s bold leadership was the key to securing prepaid postage for all.
The Trump regime may be producing disastrous policies at the federal level, but progressive ideas are advancing here at the state level.
That’s something to celebrate.
We thank Governor Inslee for saying yes to Wyman’s request for emergency funding, as we asked him to do, and we look forward to helping educate voters that there is no longer a cost associated with returning a ballot through the United States Postal Service. We’ll need legislation in 2019 to make the change permanent. We stand ready to work with Senators Patty Kuderer and Sam Hunt to get it done, along with Representatives Zack Hudgins and Laurie Dolan in the House.