State should pay postage for mail-in ballots

With Washington voters having cast their ballots through the mail since 2011, Sens. Joe Fain and Mark Mullet said today that the state should pay for postage to increase voter participation and reduce any confusion or barriers to participating in elections. The two lawmakers from King County drafted legislation this month that they intend 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.”

While many states offer some sort of mail-in voting, Washington is one of only three to use all-mail-in voting, in which elections are conducted entirely by mail. However, Washington voters are responsible for affixing postage to the ballot before sending it to their county election office.

“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” said Mullet, D-Issaquah.

King County, which has conducted elections by mail since 2009, before the practice was adopted statewide, has recently been exploring and testing the use of pre-paid postage in local special elections.

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

If passed, the legislation would go into effect for the August 2019 primary election. A similar proposal introduced in 2018 was projected to cost $2.9 million.