State should pay postage for mail-in ballots, senators say

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Washington became a vote-by-mail state back in 2011.

That meant voters had to put a stamp on the envelope or drop it off for free in a designated county ballot collection box.

Two lawmakers in King County have drafted legislation intended to file ahead of the 2019 legislative session.

“Voting is a critically important right and our state has an interest in removing barriers that keep people from exercising that right,” said Fain, R-Auburn, who has worked on election reform and proposals to expand voter access while a member of the state Senate. “Whether it is the cost or fact that many don’t keep stamps at home in an increasingly paperless society, this is one way to simplify the process and encourage people to participate in our self-government.”

Washington is one of only three states that is all mail-in voting.

“Seeing the increased voter participation in Maple Valley as part of a King County pilot project has convinced me that we need this to be a statewide effort, hence my support of this legislation,” Mullet, D-Issaquah, said.

The state Legislature has repeatedly considered making ballots postage-free. In 2015, the state estimated it would cost $2 to 3 million per two-year election cycle to put prepaid postage on every ballot.

“While both a well-intentioned and effective way to boost turnout, if more affluent cities or counties are the only jurisdictions to provide postage-free ballots, lower-income voters in other parts of the state could be disenfranchised,” Fain said. “We shouldn’t try to restrict those efforts. Instead we should make them unnecessary by expanding access for all voters.”

In 2016, we reported on extra-ong ballots in three Washington counties -- Snohomish, Whatcom and Douglas -- that required more than one stamp.

The Seattle Times has previously reported that there is another way to return ballots for free but counties don’t like to tell you about it. The Postal Service is supposed to deliver returned ballots to the counties even if they are lacking postage, rather than returning them to the sender.

“They would not reject ballots for lack of postage,” Dave Ammons, a spokesman for Secretary of State Kim Wyman, told the paper.