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Senators announce legislation to pre-pay mail-in ballots

A plan to make the state pay for postage on mail-in ballots is already in the works in the legislature.

Washington State voters have cast their ballots through the mail since 2011, but who pays for the postage could change in the next legislative session.

New legislation drafted by Sens. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, and Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, would make the state pay for postage for mail-in ballots.

Fain said that the legislation could increase voter turn-out in less affluent communities.

The two senators announced Friday, they intend to file the bill ahead of the 2019 legislative session.

“Voting is a critically important right and our state has an interest in removing barriers that keep people from exercising that right,” said Fain in a written statement. “Whether it is the cost or fact that many don’t keep stamps at home in an increasingly paperless society, this is one way to simplify the process and encourage people to participate in our self-government.”

Washington is one of three states that hold elections entirely by mail. The other two are Oregon and Colorado, although most states have some sort of vote by mail system.

During the 2017-18 legislative session that ended in March, Sen. Bob Hasegawa, D-Beacon Hill introduced a similar bill, SB 5019. That bill died in the Senate Ways and Means committee where it estimated an impact of nearly $3 million.

Mullet said the price for the new legislation would be similar and would come from the state's general fund. The benefit of introducing the issue so early is so the state can prioritize the issue during the next session, and plan for writing next year's budget.

A pilot program in King County has been exploring the use of pre-paid postage in local special elections. The City of Maple Valley and the Shoreline School District mailed ballot packets with postage already paid.

“This is something I’ve wanted to test since I ran for office,” said Julie Wise, King County Elections Director in a written statement. “Pre-paid postage is another tool to remove barriers to voting and increase convenience – and this pilot will help us understand what it might look like for King County.”

Mullet said that the program in Maple Valley could convince lawmakers in the next legislative session of the bill's importance and effectiveness.

"If you see a few more people participating and making a change, to me, that's significant," Mullet said of the Maple Valley program.