OLYMPIA – Washington voters won’t have to put a stamp on the envelope to mail in their ballots for the primary and general elections this year.
A week after King County voted to provide postage-paid envelopes for its voters, Gov. Jay Inslee and Secretary of State Kim Wyman announced Tuesday they have found money to cover the costs for return postage for the other 38 counties.
Providing prepaid postage for just the voters in the state’s most populous county would have put the other voters at a disadvantage, they said. Inslee agreed to take $600,000 from his emergency fund, and Wyman offered up an equal amount from money her office saved primarily from positions that were kept empty. That $1.2 million is enough to cover prepaid postage for ballots mailed in from the other counties.
“There just wasn’t money to do the entire state,” said Tara Lee, a spokeswoman for Inslee.
They’ll also ask the Legislature to reimburse King County in 2019 for its ballot postage costs from this year.
The announcement isn’t sitting well with some King County officials, who said the state should be treating all voters equally by paying for their voters’ postage as well.
“I don’t know what the Legislature is going to do next year, and neither does the governor or the secretary,” King County Council Chairman Joe McDermott said. They should have worked with legislators during this year’s session to get the money for the entire state, he said.
If the state doesn’t have enough money to cover prepaid postage in all 39 counties, it should prorate the payments to send each county a proportional share of the available funding and let the counties decide whether to cover the rest, McDermott said.
But that wouldn’t necessarily level the field, Wyman said, because some small counties are struggling with tight budgets and might not have extra money to cover their costs, while King County has already decided to pay for its voters’ postage.
“King County went off on its own to do this,” she said. “This is the best fix that we could come up with in such a short time. … I’m very confident the Legislature will make King County whole.”
McDermott’s questions of fairness over the plan announced by Inslee and Wyman seem to echo concerns by state officials last week, when it seemed only King County voters would be able to mail their ballots for free.
King County acted because state officials didn’t, McDermott said, and only has jurisdiction over its own voters. “I reject the argument that this is unfair for King County to provide postage-paid ballots to its voters.”
McDermott said he’s willing to work with Wyman and Inslee’s offices, and other elections officials, to come up with a better plan. Wyman said that’s fine, but she’s been trying to work with King County and its council ever since they announced a plan to pay for their voters’ postage.
Local elections offices are running out of time, she said. Some counties already have begun printing orders for the August primary, she said, and some order envelopes for both elections to take advantage of bulk discounts.
The debate over who pays for the 2018 ballot mailings should generate a bigger discussion in next year’s Legislature over whether the state should always cover that cost. With all state voters able to mail their ballots for free, as well as turn them in for free at a drop box, the state will get solid data rather than theoretical or anecdotal information on whether postage-paid ballots increase participation in Washington’s all-mail election system, Wyman said.