A ballot return envelope with postage prepaid
A ballot return envelope with postage prepaid (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

A bill that would make pre­paid postage on return bal­lot envelopes a per­ma­nent vot­ing reform in Wash­ing­ton State has cleared the Senate.

“This bill is a huge step for­ward in mak­ing Wash­ing­ton elec­tions fair­er and more acces­si­ble for every­one in the state,” said prime spon­sor Joe Nguyen (D‑34th Dis­trict: West Seat­tle, Vashon). “For most peo­ple, the idea that you would have to pay to return your bal­lot, even if that only means a stamp, just doesn’t sit right. Pass­ing this leg­is­la­tion removes that ques­tion and brings every­one to the table.”

Before last year’s midterms, bal­lot return envelopes sent out by coun­ty elec­tions offi­cials instruct­ed vot­ers to place a stamp on the envelope.

After King Coun­ty decid­ed to make pre­paid postage uni­ver­sal with­in its juris­dic­tion, Sec­re­tary of State Kim Wyman and Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee cob­bled togeth­er the mon­ey to ensure the state’s oth­er thir­ty-eight coun­ties could do like­wise.

But that was just a tem­po­rary measure.

Sub­sti­tute Sen­ate Bill 5063 per­ma­nent­ly abol­ish­es what had been tan­ta­mount to a minia­ture poll tax by requir­ing pre­paid postage on bal­lot return envelopes at state expense. Imple­men­ta­tion will cost an esti­mat­ed $4.8 mil­lion dur­ing the 2019–2021 bien­ni­um, accord­ing to a fis­cal note pre­pared by OFM.

It’s a small price to pay, rel­a­tive­ly speak­ing, for the elim­i­na­tion of a seem­ing­ly small but actu­al­ly very cum­ber­some bar­ri­er to vot­ing for many people.

“I think we are stronger as indi­vid­u­als and com­mu­ni­ties when we all have access to vot­ing and are a part of the process,” Sen­a­tor Nguyen said in a news release. “I also want to thank Sen­a­tor Bob Hasegawa for his years cham­pi­oning this leg­is­la­tion. We could not have accom­plished this with­out his lead­er­ship and vision.”

SSB 5063 is one of NPI’s pri­or­i­ty bills for the 2019 leg­isla­tive ses­sion. We are thrilled to see it pass. This leg­is­la­tion is long over­due and we’re glad it’s final­ly arrived. The roll call vote on SSB 5063 was fit­ting­ly rather lopsided:

Roll Call
SB 5063
Bal­lots, pre­paid postage
3rd Read­ing & Final Passage

Yeas: 42; Nays: 3; Excused: 4

Vot­ing Yea: Sen­a­tors Bai­ley, Bil­lig, Braun, Brown, Car­lyle, Cleve­land, Darneille, Das, Dhin­gra, For­tu­na­to, Frockt, Hasegawa, Hawkins, Hobbs, Holy, Hunt, Keis­er, King, Kud­er­er, Liias, Lovelett, McCoy, Mul­let, Nguyen, O‘Ban, Palum­bo, Ped­er­sen, Ran­dall, Rivers, Rolfes, Sal­daña, Salomon, Schoesler, Short, Takko, Van De Wege, Wag­oner, War­nick, Well­man, Wil­son (Claire), Wil­son (Lyn­da), Zeiger

Vot­ing Nay: Sen­a­tors Erick­sen, Hon­ey­ford, Padden

Excused: Sen­a­tors Beck­er, Con­way, Shel­don, Walsh

Three Repub­li­can Sen­a­tors vot­ed against the bill: Trump admir­er and Eyman bud­dy Doug Erick­sen, Jim Hon­ey­ford, and Mike Pad­den. Four sen­a­tors did not vote.

SSB 5063 will next be con­sid­ered by the Wash­ing­ton State House.

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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