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Ferry County decides to pay for postage for returning primary ballots

UPDATED: Tue., July 17, 2018, 6:46 p.m.

Ferry County voters won’t have to find a stamp for this year’s primary ballot. The county elections office is providing them.

County Auditor Dianna Galvan said Tuesday that ballots will go out later this week with a stamped return envelope. On Monday, as reported in The Spokesman-Review, she said voters would have to use their own stamp or place their primary ballots in a drop box. She said not providing postage was an effort to be fiscally responsible, since the amount of money the state offered to cover postage only was enough to cover the general election.

Ferry County was the only county in Washington that did not plan to provide postage to return ballots in the primary.

What changed in that 24-hour period was assurances from the local post office that it could supply the necessary 4,553 stamps to place on return envelopes that aren’t designed to be postage-paid, and assurances from a county commissioner that Galvan’s budget will be increased to cover what the state won’t.

“The (state) grant will still be short,” she said. “Commissioner Nathan Davis said we’ll figure it out.”

The Washington Democratic Party had been critical of Galvan for the original decision, saying it would put Ferry County voters at a disadvantage. Tuesday, state party Chairwoman Tina Podlodowski said the decision was a testament to local people who pushed for the change.

“I think it’s terrific,” Podlodowski said.

In the past, Washington voters were responsible for returning their own ballots in the all-mail voting system. This spring, the King County Council voted to cover the cost of postage for its voters to mail back their primary and general election ballots, and the state decided to tap emergency funds for the other 38 counties to make sure all voters are treated the same.

But the formula the secretary of state’s office devised wasn’t going to pay all of Ferry County’s costs for the two elections, Galvan said. It would either have to throw out its current envelopes, have new postage-paid envelopes printed and pay the higher costs for that postage, or put 50-cent stamps on the existing return envelopes for its 4,553 voters.

The second option was less expensive, but still costs an estimated $847 more than the state is sending. But with Davis’ assurance, Galvan bought stamps Tuesday on a credit card and elections office workers began putting them on envelopes that are being included with the ballots that will be mailed out Thursday.

In the primary four years ago, Ferry County had a 54.2 percent return, with the vast majority coming in by mail. If returns are similar this year, it means that about half the stamps going out with the ballots aren’t going to be used to send them back.

The county also has added four drop boxes, including two on the Colville Confederated Tribes Reservation, Galvan said, in hopes of increasing returns by that method.

Podlodowski said the stamps are about equal opportunity for voters who have to drive a long distance to a drop box or mailbox.

“I’m particularly concerned about rural areas in Eastern Washington,” she said. As for the extra $847 cost to the county, Podlodowski countered: “What’s the cost of a person not being able to exercise their right to vote?”


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