King County officials, who funded prepaid ballots countywide last week, are miffed that the state's $1.2 million allocation left the county out and will require reimbursement from the Legislature.
Gov. Jay Inslee and Secretary of State Kim Wyman announced Tuesday that they have found $1.2 million to fund prepaid mail-in ballots for 38 of the state’s 39 counties in this year’s primary and general elections.
The move excludes King County — the state’s largest. The Metropolitan King County Council approved prepaid postage with county funds for ballots last week on a 7-2 vote, forcing the state to act to ensure equity in access to the polls statewide. The state’s allocation does not reimburse the county. The Secretary of State’s office will seek any payback for King County from the Legislature.
Wyman had urged King County to wait so a statewide plan could be developed, but to no avail. The Legislature has previously failed to fund prepaid ballots.
Metropolitan King County Council chairman Joe McDermott protested the state excluding the state’s most populous county, saying that the state should have come up with the money to pay for or reimburse King County’s prepaid ballots, as well. The county allocated $381,000 for prepaid ballots on May 7.
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“I call on them to dig deeper and find the funds to reimburse all 39 counties this year,” McDermott said.
McDermott was joined in the protest by County Executive Dow Constantine and Elections Director Julie Wise, who took credit for spurring the state into action, but found it “grossly unfair” that King was excluded from the states’ funding.
Inslee and Wyman began working on a way to fund statewide prepaid ballots a couple weeks ago. Wyman made a $2 million emergency request for funds to the governor for this year’s election cycle after she spoke before the King County Council earlier this month urging them to not adopt prepaid postage until the entire state was ready to go that route.
The state funding is split, with $600,000 going to each of Wyman’s and Inslee’s offices.
Counties will have to decide if they want to participate, and envelope printing deadlines are fast approaching.
Inslee said in a statement that the funding “makes for a stronger democracy.”
“Because Washington is a vote-by-mail state, prepaid postage is one important way we can reduce barriers to casting ballots,” the governor said.
Constantine and McDermott jointly complained that King County’s 2.2 million residents already “fund a disproportionate share of the state’s budget. King County will continue to make voting easier and more accessible, and if needed we will go to the Legislature next year to again seek fair treatment for our residents.”
The county’s decision to move ahead on funding prepaid ballots came after Wise, the election’s director, reviewed the turnout results of a trio of trial runs for prepaid ballots in Shoreline, Maple Valley and Vashon Island. Shoreline saw a 10 percent increase in voter turnout and Maple Valley and Vashon Island each saw a 6 percent increase.
Despite her disappointment that King County was excluded from state funding, Wise views statewide prepaid postage as a positive and is willing to work with other county election officials to make it happen. “I’m such a fan of prepaid postage, I’m excited to see other counties join us,” she said.
Wise also views the movement to prepaid ballots as way to find relief from a state law requiring one dropbox for every 15,000 people. The bill, which passed this last legislative session, requires King County to go from its current 56 drop boxes to 86. Wise believes prepaid ballot postage reduces the need for them.
The question now is whether the Legislature will fund prepaid ballots going forward. Past efforts to fund it have failed.
A bipartisan prepaid postage bill will be introduced next session by Sens. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah and Joe Fain, R-Auburn. McDermott said he will do what he can to help convince lawmakers in Olympia to pass it, but that the push really needs to come from Inslee and Wyman. Wyman signaled that is just what she is going to do.
“I want to thank the governor for his collaboration, and I look forward to working with him to get a bill passed in 2019 to make Washington the first state in America with permanent universal postage-paid voting by mail,” Wyman said in a statement.