OLYMPIA — A proposed law requested by Gov. Jay Inslee would provide prepaid postage for all election ballots in the state of Washington.

Since 2011, all elections in the state have been conducted by mail, leaving voters responsible for paying return postage. Senate Bill 5063, co-sponsored by Sen. Joe Nguyen, D-White Center, and Sen. Bob Hasegawa, D-Beacon Hill, would eliminate that cost.

Inslee and Secretary of State Kim Wyman combined forces to secure enough funding for statewide ballot return postage in the 2018 primary and general elections. They did so after King County decided to provide post-paid ballots. State election officials were concerned this might unduly skew results toward the Seattle area.

SB 5063 would require the state to reimburse counties for the cost of return postage on election ballots.

Jay Jennings, legislative director for the Secretary of State, said at a hearing on Wednesday that some county auditor’s offices do not have funds to meet the demands placed on them.

“Many county governments across the state face severe budget challenges because of paying for state election cycles,” said Jennings. “Every two years takes money away from local services, including fire and safety.”

According to the bill, the Legislature finds that voting by mail has many advantages, however, requiring the cost of return postage passes burden on to Washington citizens. The bill is also intended to increase voter turnout by lowering all barriers for voters, including the purchase of stamps.

Mary Hall, auditor for Thurston county, explained the importance of convenience for younger voters. In the most recent general election, Thurston county had 50 percent of voters send ballots by mail and 50 percent vote by drop box, she said.

“People in college these days don’t even know what a stamp is, let alone know where to get one,” said Hall. “I think that prepaid postage is going to be critical if we really want to encourage our younger voters to participate in our democratic process.”

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