King County Director of Elections Julie Wise and County Executive Dow Constantine have asked the County Council to approve a supplemental budget request to pay for prepaid postage on mail-in ballots.
King County voters might no longer have to worry about finding stamps for their ballots.
Prepaid postage for the county’s mail-in ballots could happen as soon as the Aug. 7 primary if the King County Metropolitan Council approves a supplemental budget request to fund the change. Adopting the request would cost about $191,000 this year and approximately $250,000 annually, said Julie Wise, King County elections director. The county will not be charged for ballots not mailed. Postage would run 50 cents per piece for the county.
Wise, who has worked for the elections division since 2000, has long wanted to send voters prepaid ballots. One of the first things she and County Executive Dow Constantine discussed after her election as director in 2015 was getting prepaid postage on ballots.
“The first thing he said was, ‘Let’s do prepaid ballots, but first let’s make sure this works, and we don’t negatively impact voters,'” she recalled him saying.
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Wise moved cautiously to ensure a prepaid postage system could work. The first test happened last year with three special elections in Maple Valley, Shoreline and Vashon Island. She wanted to see how it worked with the post office, and if it increased voter turnout. Shoreline saw a 10 percent increase in voter turnout from its previous special election, going from 30 percent to 40 percent. Maple Valley went from 31 percent to 37 percent and Vashon Island from 46 percent to 52 percent.
“I’m really excited with what we saw with the post office, but also with voter response,” Wise said.
King County Elections has been trying to make it easier for people to vote since the county adopted mail-ballot voting in 2009. The number of drop boxes, which don’t require postage, increased from 10 to 56. Ballots are provided in Korean, Spanish, Vietnamese and Chinese, and the county is partnering with the Seattle Foundation to educate voters throughout the county and increase turnout.
Turnout fluctuates depending what issues are on the ballot and if it is a presidential election year. In 2016, the last presidential election, 82 percent of registered King County voters cast a ballot. The 2016 primary drew 37 percent. With no presidential election last year, 43 percent voted in King County’s general election and 34 percent in the primary.
King County would be the first county in the state to offer prepaid postage for elections. Kim Wyman, the secretary of state, supports the idea but prefers to see the entire state implement prepaid postage at the same time, so all voters are given the same opportunity, and would want the Legislature to fund it, said Erich Ebel, communications director for the Office of the Secretary of State.
Prepaid postage ballots will be used countywide for the Aug. 7 primary if the County Council approves the budget request before May 3, when ballot printing begins.