Oregon has taken great strides in modernizing our elections system. Starting with Vote by Mail in the late ‘90s, and continuing with Online Registration and Automatic Voter Registration in the past decade, our state has been a leader in making voting more efficient and streamlined. These reforms help ensure there’s a ballot in the hands of every eligible voter, and that everyone participates. The next logical step as we continue to innovate and improve our elections systems is to pay for return postage for ballots.
42% of new, first-time voters don’t have a postage stamp in their home, especially young people.
Members of the military serving in non-combat zones – including overseas – are required to provide a stamp on their ballot. An estimated 1,011 persons serving in the military but voting at foreign addresses were sent a ballot in 2016. That’s nearly 1 in 6 military voters in Oregon. In 2014, 74% of military ballots went un-returned.
Oregonians with visual disabilities may need additional postage for their larger-format ballot.
Ballot boxes can be difficult to find, especially for people with disabilities or those living in rural areas. Data from 2016 indicates that all five of the counties with the lowest turnout – less than 77% – are considered “rural” or “frontier” counties, and each has less than 10 drop boxes.
Pre-paid postage is a priority for Governor Kate Brown, who dedicated $2.7 million to paid postage in her budget. The Secretary of State is requesting the same amount of funding. The state will pay for business reply postage for all ballots returned by U.S. mail during Oregon elections. While we know many more people would mail in their ballots than currently do, the state would not pay for ballots returned with a postage stamp or ballots dropped in drop box locations.
In municipalities that have tested pre-paid postage on ballots, turnout has increased by a significant margin - in King County, overall turnout was 7 to 10 percent higher than expected for a special election in the two districts tested. We would expect the same result in Oregon. After their testing, Washington State implemented pre-paid postage for all elections in 2018 and has plans to continue for future elections (SB 5063). There are other places increasing access, too. California Governor Jerry Brown signed a measure requiring elections officials to provide prepaid mail ballots in all future elections across the state. Certain counties in Florida, Utah, and New Jersey also pay for postage when voting by mail.
Every Oregon voter, regardless of where they live, how old they are, or whether they require a special ballot, should have an opportunity to vote on issues important to them and their community, free of barriers. Buying a stamp or finding a drop box- which for some voters might be 30 minutes or more from their home or workplace- is a barrier. Providing pre-paid postage for ballots streamlines the process and makes voting more efficient, equitable, and straightforward for all.