[Image via kcelections]
Next month’s elections in King County (Seattle), WA will test an idea about which voters often ask and election officials often wonder: postage-paid ballots. King County elections has more on their in-house blog(!):
We’re excited to announce that King County Elections is testing pre-paid postage for the February special elections in Maple Valley and the Shoreline School District. During last year’s General Election, we received some questions from voters about why we didn’t pay for the postage on ballots returned through the U.S. Postal Service. We have considered the idea in recent years, but before we can implement pre-paid postage, we knew we had to test it out first.
Prepaid postage is another way to improve voter access and remove barriers to voting. Objectives for the pre-paid postage pilot include understanding whether or not the process works administratively and to see if more voters return their ballots than in previous elections.
Ballot packets were mailed Wednesday to voters in Maple Valley and the Shoreline School District. Each ballot packet includes a return envelope with the postage already paid. For more information about our pre-paid postage test, check out the Q&A below.
1. Why are you testing pre-paid postage?
a. We are testing pre-paid postage to determine a number of things, including whether paid postage results in more voters returning their ballots.
2. How much will pre-paid postage cost for the two elections? And who is going to pay for it?
a. We estimate that the cost of paid postage will total $12,300. For Maple Valley the cost is about $3,300 and for the Shoreline School District it is about $9,000. King County Elections will cover the costs for both elections. However, we are only charged for ballots returned through the U.S. Postal Service.
3. How were the elections for the pre-paid postage test chosen?
a. We wanted a sample population, and with a combined 64,032 voters, the Shoreline School District and Maple Valley elections were an appropriate sample.
Ideally, with more than one jurisdiction participating, we will also gain an understanding of whether or not there are significant differences between jurisdictions.
4. How are you reaching out to voters about the pre-paid pilot program?
a. Voters will receive a return envelope with language indicating that the postage has been paid. They will also receive an insert explaining that the postage for their return envelope has been paid.
b. We are also getting the word out through our social media channels.
5. Do you think pre-paid postage will lead to more ballots returned?
a. Prepaid postage is just another tool to improve voter access, remove barriers to voting and increase convenience, like ballot drop boxes. Other jurisdictions who have implemented pre-paid postage have not seen a significant increase in turnout. However, one of the main objectives of testing pre-paid postage is to see if more voters return their ballots than in previous elections.
6. Given that more than half of returned ballots were brought to a drop box in the General Election, why are you testing pre-paid postage?
a. We’re certainly seeing that the additional drop boxes were widely used by voters. However, more than 500,000 voters still chose to mail in their ballots. Our ultimate goal is to make voting as easy and barrier-free as possible – so it’s great to be able to provide voters with options.
7. Will you still have drop boxes open? If so, which ones?
a. The following drop boxes will be open: Shoreline Library, Lake Forest Park City Hall, Bothell City Hall, Lake City Library, Broadview Library, King County Administration Building, King County Elections Headquarters in Renton, Covington Library, and Tahoma School District.
This is a fascinating and important test. Speaking only for me, I’d be curious whether pre-paid postage leads some voters who’ve been using dropboxes to put their ballots in the mail (sort of a price elasticity for mail voting, for those of you -like me- who remember just a little of college economics). The data overall will also be valuable not just in King County but nationally as more and more communities give voters the option of voting by mail – both on turnout and on per-voter cost.
I can’t wait to see how this experiment turns out … stay tuned!