Two bills in the state Legislature aim to simplify the process of voting: one through providing prepaid postage on ballots, and the other by allowing voters to return ballots by email and fax.
“In a democracy, everyone should participate, and we should make it as easy to participate as possible,” said Sen. Bob Hasegawa, D-Seattle, the sponsor of Senate Bill 5344.
Hasegawa’s bill would require prepaid postage on return envelopes for primary and general election ballots. The state would reimburse counties for the cost of postage.
Critics say they support the intent of the bill, but are concerned about where to find the money. The bill would require $2.7 million in the next two-year budget, according to the Office of the Secretary of State.
Counties would have to pay for the postage initially until they get reimbursed by the state.
“It can be a pretty significant issue for counties, fronting that money for a while,” said Monty Cobb of the Washington Association of County Officials.
Some also worried about how the bill would affect the dated postmarks that county officials use to judge whether ballots were mailed by Election Day.
The postal service doesn’t normally put postmarks on pre-paid bulk mailings, according to the Secretary of State, which agency officials said is a bigger problem with out-of-state voters. Elections officials can ask local postal service workers to add postmarks to prepaid ballot envelopes, but they don’t have as much influence elsewhere.
Another proposal to allow ballots and signed declarations to be faxed or emailed is also prompting concern.
House Bill 1143 would allow voters to do so by election night, without having to turn in a hard copy of their ballots to the county auditor. Armed forces members and overseas voters vote this way.
Cobb said the emailed and faxed ballots would still have a signature, so elections officials can verify they are coming from the right voters.
“The scan has the signature, so the auditors can still check that signature,” he said. “We see this as a very good efficiency measure that lets people’s vote count.”
Secretary of State Kim Wyman said she worries that because the state’s use of electronic voting is relatively new, the state and county auditors don’t have the systems in place to handle large amounts of emailed and faxed ballots. She said that could cause problems in the event of a close election.
“I just want to make sure we can maintain voter confidence,” she said.