Governor Jay Inslee and Secretary of State Kim Wyman say they have identified funding sources to cover the cost of establishing prepaid postage for ballots statewide in advance of the 2018 midterm elections.
Through a combination of $600,000 in various savings from both the governor’s office and Wyman’s office—for a total of $1.2 million—the state will be able to pay for 38 of Washington’s 39 counties to offer prepaid postage for all ballots in the upcoming 2018 primary and general elections.
Two weeks ago, the King County Council passed its own ordinance funding prepaid ballot postage in the county for the 2018 elections—to the tune of $381,000—in an effort to boost voter turnout after several successful pilot projects. Prior to the bill’s passage, Wyman testified before the council, asking them to hold off voting on the ordinance until prepaid postage could be established statewide. She also requested $2 million from Governor Inslee to fund the program.
“This is about leveling the playing field and making elections equal for all citizens of Washington State,” Wyman said in a joint announcement rolled out on the morning of May 15.
King County, however, was left out of the funding allocation due to the recent passage of its prepaid ballot postage ordinance. In the announcement, both Inslee and Wyman said they would ask the state Legislature during the 2019 session for a one-time reimbursement to cover King County’s prepaid ballot postage expenses for the 2018 elections. According to the release, the cost of covering all 39 counties would be $1.8 million, while state officials could only cobble together $1.2 million.
The exclusion has rubbed some local elected officials the wrong way. In a joint statement, King County Executive Dow Constantine, Council Chair Joe McDermott, and Elections Director Julie Wise condemned the move. “The decision to exclude King County — and only King County — from the state reimbursement plan for prepaid ballot postage is grossly unfair. We urge state leaders to reconsider.” (They added that if the state cannot afford to fully fund all counties statewide in time for the 2018 elections, that they should partially fund all counties uniformly.)
In a phone interview with Seattle Weekly, Council Chair McDermott said that while he is glad that counties across the state will have prepaid postage for ballots, that the exclusion plays a disproportionate burden on King County. “I believe it is unfair to not front-fund the cost statewide,” he said.
McDermott added that, during the 2018 legislative session, bipartisan efforts to pass laws funding prepaid ballot postage statewide made no headway and Wyman was not advocating for them at the time. “That was not something that secretary Wyman was championing. When that failed to happen, King County took action in the jurisdiction that we control.”
Additionally, McDermott argued that, due to a cost-sharing agreement in place under the county’s current prepaid ballot postage legislation with local cities, that other jurisdictions within King County are impacted by this. “To leave King County out or to make it contingent on legislative action come January—which you can never count on—leaves not only the county but cities … at a disadvantage,” he said.
Councilmember Dave Upthegrove, one of the cosponsors of the King County prepaid ballot postage ordinance, was more blunt about his displeasure with the governor’s announcement. “It’s complete bullshit that the governor is providing unequal funding and it’s ridiculous that he’s slapping King County in the face like this.”
“The fact that the governor wants us to take a hit and not other counties is disrespectful,” he added.
Upthegrove said that he has asked the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office if they have any standing to pursue litigation against the state for different treatment of counties when it comes to funding local elections.