SEATTLE -- The King County Council on Monday approved prepaid ballots in this year's primary and general elections.
“Increasing accessibility to free and fair democratic elections is central to all of our civic institutions,” said council member Dave Upthegrove, chairman of the council’s Budget Committee and prime sponsor of the legislation. “This measure puts a ballot box at the end of every driveway, and I’m excited to be a part of its passage.”
Washington became a vote-by-mail state in 2011. While the King County Council and King County Elections worked to increase the number of ballot drop boxes available to voters throughout the county, approximately half of the ballots received are still sent by mail, the council said. Prior to Monday's action all voters were personally required to place postage on their ballot.
The council said that in prior elections, when a voter forgot to place on stamp on a ballot, some post offices would send the ballot to King County regardless, but would charge the county $1.70—more than three times the current postage rate. Other post offices would not forward the ballot at all.
The measure is widely expected to increase voter access and participation. King County Elections conducted a pilot project this winter, sending 65,000 voters in Shoreline and Maple Valley prepaid return envelopes. The percentage of total ballots returned by mail during the pilot was 74 percent. This was a vast increase compared to 43 percent participation in the 2016 General Election.
The legislation now allows election officials to send prepaid return envelopes to all voters; the U.S. Postal Service will charge King County a rate of 50 cents for those returned by mail. County election officials estimate a 10 percent increase in the number of ballots returned by mail rather than drop boxes with prepaid postage.