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Ballot returns way ahead of a year ago

Whether prepaid postage on envelopes is the reason remains to be seen, auditor says

By , Columbian politics reporter
Published: August 4, 2018, 5:43pm

As of Friday, the number of ballots returned in Tuesday’s primary election has increased 43.7 percent compared with the 2017 election at the same point in time. Last year, 12.8 percent of the electorate had voted with four days left before the primary. This year, that number has increased to 18.4 percent.

The difference between this year and last is that ballots now include prepaid postage, meaning voters do not need to stop by a ballot drop box if they want to return their ballot for free.

Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey said it’s hard to say at this point if the bump in returns is due to prepaid postage or an increase in voter participation.

“We’re also seeing a reduction in the number of returns to ballot drop sites,” Kimsey said.

What elections officials don’t know is if the reduction in ballots returned to official drop boxes is because those who use ballot drops are now using prepaid postage, he said.

The final conclusion will have to wait until the election is done.

“The other driver, of course, is the offices on the ballot,” Kimsey said. “Maybe there’s a lot of interest in those offices.”

The 3rd Congressional District race, for example, features seven candidates and has garnered national attention.

If voter turnout has in fact increased as a result of prepaid postage, Kimsey said voters should know at this point, only the 2018 election cycle is set to benefit.

“Funding from the government and secretary of state next year is uncertain,” he said. “We’re hoping the Legislature will provide funding for all counties.”

King County is the only county with funding for prepaid postage moving forward. That’s an issue, Kimsey said.

“It’s really not a good election system where a third of the voters have prepaid postage and two-thirds do not,” he said. “I hope the Legislature understands that and recognizes that.”

Alternatively, if the state paid its share of election costs in even-numbered years when state offices are on the ballot, Clark County could continue to provide ballot postage in the future.

Kimsey said that as it stands now, all jurisdictions pay their portion of election costs, the county, fire districts, etc. But the state is exempt from that rule in even-numbered years, increasing the cost burden on local jurisdictions.

“If the state would be able to pay their election cost, then I’m confident all 38 counties would be providing prepaid postage,” he said.

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