Lawmakers file bill to eliminate postage need for mail ballots

The legislation would make mail-in election process postage-free.

BY MADELINE COATS

WNPA Olympia News Bureau

OLYMPIA — A proposed law requested by Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee would provide prepaid postage for all election ballots in the state of Washington.

Since 2011, all elections in the state have been conducted by mail, leaving voters responsible for paying return postage. Inslee and Secretary of State Kim Wyman combined forces to secure enough funding for statewide ballot return postage in the 2018 primary and general elections. But Bill 5063, co-sponsored by Sen. Joe Nguyen, D-White Center, and Sen. Bob Hasegawa, D-Beacon Hill, would permanently eliminate that need.

SB 5063 would require the state to reimburse counties for the cost of return postage on election ballots. Jay Jennings, legislative director for the Secretary of State, said at a hearing Jan. 16 that some county auditor’s offices do not have funds to meet the demands placed on them.

“Many county governments across the state face severe budget challenges because of paying for state election cycles,” Jennings said. “Every two years takes money away from local services, including fire and safety.”

According to the bill, the state Legislature finds that voting by mail has many advantages, but that it does passes the cost of return postage to Washington state citizens. The bill is also intended to increase voter turnout by lowering all barriers for voters, including purchasing stamps.

Mary Hall, the auditor for Thurston County, said the convenience of postage-free mailing is important to younger voters. In the most recent general election, Thurston County said half of the voters sent in their ballots by mail and the other half deposited them in a drop box, she said.

“People in college these days don’t even know what a stamp is, let alone know where to get one,” Hall mused. “I think that prepaid postage is going to be critical if we really want to encourage our younger voters to participate in our democratic process.”

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