Can a pre-paid ballot fix low voter turnout?

Today marks the first day of Washington’s voting period, the beginning of our annual democratic process. But participation in non-Presidential elections are low. Clark County had a voter turnout of more than 77 percent in 2016, but that turnout was a mere 34 percent in 2015.

Low voter turnout is not a new problem, but there’s little room for innovation when it comes to increasing participation.

Given Washington’s vote by mail system, I wondered, what if voters received stamps or a pre-paid envelope to eliminate just one more barrier to participation in the election system?

I asked Cathie Garber, Clark County elections supervisor, about the idea. She said it’s been talked about before to no avail.

“There have been legislative/senate bills in the past that wanted to make the postage on ballot envelopes prepaid, but have not gotten anywhere,” Garber said. Part of the reason is the cost to taxpayers.

She added that even if Clark County did implement such a program, it might not make a difference. King County piloted a pre-paid ballot for its special election in February. They saw about a 7 percent increase in expected turnout. But that higher turnout was still only 37 percent total.

Garber said Clark County gets about half of its ballots from one of seven 24-hour drop boxes or one of 35 sites on Election Day.

“So many voters have already chosen a way to return their ballots without postage,” she said.

Pre-paid postage or not, the point is this: vote. It’s your civic duty.

Katy Sword

Katy Sword

I cover the city of Vancouver and federal politics. Reach me at

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