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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Ballot postage in Washington elections covered in bill

OLYMPIA – Covering return postage for the state’s all-mail balloting would cost about $1 million for a presidential election and about $2.7 million for the next two years, a Senate committee was told Monday.

But supporters of a proposal to do just that say it would make voting more convenient and remove a possible barrier for poor residents.

“Of all the barriers (to voting), being poor should not be one of them,” said Sen. Bob Hasegawa, D-Seattle. 

Sen. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, likened the need to put a stamp on the ballot envelope to a poll tax.

“I think today, for some people it’s pretty hard to find a postage stamp,” said Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn.

State and county elections officials attempted, without much apparent success, to tamp down the enthusiasm for an idea that has surfaced in previous years but has yet to become law.

“By definition, this would not be a poll tax,” Monty Cobb, lobbyist for the state’s county officials, told Pearson. It’s possible to turn in a ballot without postage and put it in a drop box for free.

The mechanics are also difficult, because if counties use a postage meter to stamp the return envelopes, they’ll pay for the ballots that aren’t returned as well as the ones that are. The post office also doesn’t always postmark envelopes with metered stamps, and postmarks are necessary to determine whether the ballots that arrive after Election Day were mailed by the deadline.

The secretary of state’s office, which oversees elections, supports the concept. “Our main concern is the postmark,” said Sheryl Moss, of the state elections office.

Roach suggested the state should be able to mark an envelope to be mailed without a stamp, similar to the way members of Congress frank their mail then pay the post office. That would be fine, if the Legislature can persuade Congress to extend the franking privilege, Cobb said.

The proposed bill only applies to state primaries and general elections, so counties or small districts would have to pay for postage on special elections, or voters would have to use a stamp for some elections but not others.

Sen. Brian Dansel, R-Republic, questioned whether return postage would lead to better turnout: “We’ve made it so easy for folks to vote, I wonder if we’ve gotten to a point where we’re overthinking it.”

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