Washington state, which experimented with providing postage-paid return envelopes for ballots at last year’s General Election (mostly because King County forced its hand by funding its county’s postage), will provide free postage for future elections starting July 1. It’s a wise move.
A variety of factors resulted in last November’s election having a strong turnout, including races that were hotly contested. It’s not clear many more folks voted because of free stamps. Yet, there were probably a few. And the more folks who vote, the better it is for our representative government.
But the most important reason to continue statewide funding of ballot postage is to ensure elections are conducted uniformly across the state.
Before the election, King County approved a plan to pay postage for its voters. If King County had been the only county to pay postage, it would have given that county — and its 1.2 million registered voters — an advantage at election time.
Lawmakers, particularly those outside of King County, were concerned and opted to level the playing field by funding postage. They knew that if the state did not do so, King County would have continued funding its voters’ postage.
The prepaid envelopes cost taxpayers an estimated $1.8 million statewide.
“With prepaid postage, every mailbox is a drop box — so simply drop your ballot-return envelope into the mail before Election Day,” Secretary of State Kim Wyman said in a news release.
Of course, the option of dropping off ballots — and thus saving taxpayers’ postage fees — at drop boxes remains.
In addition, lawmakers made a few other changes to the voting laws that should help boost voter participation.
Chief among them is automatic voter registration for Washington state residents applying for an enhanced driver’s license or enhanced ID card — which require proof of citizenship unlike a regular driver’s license — with the Department of Licensing. If the applicant doesn’t want to be registered, he or she can opt out at the counter.
And voters will also be allowed to register to vote eight days before an election online or by mail. They can register even closer to Election Day by visiting in person (with their ID) the Election Center, 310 W. Poplar St., before 8 p.m. on Aug. 6 to vote in the Primary Election, and before 8 p.m. on Nov. 5 to vote in the General Election.
These changes aren’t dramatic but they should make it easier to participate in the important process of voting.