SEATTLE - A majority of King County Council members were poised to approve free postage for mail-in ballots Monday, beginning with the primary election in August and the general election in November.
But then Secretary of State Kim Wyman asked them to reconsider.
She pointed out that legislative and congressional districts can cover multiple counties, but only King County voters would get free postage.
“I think it raises a question of whether you're treating voters the same way. And the courts have been very clear across the country that if you do something for one group you have to do it for all groups,” said Wyman.
The free drop boxes are popular and there are now 60 spread around the county. Roughly half the voters use them and don't pay postage at all.
But in a small experiment last year, King County elections saw a 6 to 10 percent increase in voter turnout when postage was free for the mail-in ballots.
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“A postage stamp, while only 49 cents and usually occupying a square inch of space, can be a significant barrier to voting,” said League of Women Voters President Stephanie Cirkovich.
Council documents show free postage would cost the city and county taxpayers $381,000 this year and another $1.1 million next year.
“We were just briefed last week that we will be about $25 million short in the general fund and I think we need to focus on what are the necessary things that people cannot do for themselves,” said King County Council member Kathy Lambert.
Democrat Dave Upthegrove agreed to delay the vote, but just for a week.
"Despite the opposition we heard from the Republican secretary of state today I think it is important we reduce these barriers and move forward," he said.
Upthegrove expects the free postage plan to pass with a supermajority of votes next week. That’s in time for the county to have prepaid ballots printed in time for the August election.
Late Monday, Secretary of State Wyman asked Gov. Jay Inslee for emergency money to pay for free postage on mail-in ballots statewide.
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