As the Oregon Legislature gears up for its even-year short session, lawmakers and staff are fine-tuning at least some of the bills the former will deal with starting Feb. 5. Among them is one that would give counties, cities and districts the right to decide for themselves if they want to provide prepaid envelopes so voters can mail ballots without having to buy a stamp.
It’s a bad idea.
County clerks, including Deschutes County’s Nancy Blankenship, will tell anyone who asks that they believe all voters should receive equal treatment. They might not get it under this proposal. Some counties could decide to do it and others not.
There’s another, more practical problem, as well. Providing postage would be an expensive proposition, no matter where you live. Again, Blankenship explains it this way:
About 47 percent of Deschutes County’s voters in any given election actually mail ballots in. The rest either visit a drive-through kiosk or deliver their ballots to drop boxes across the county.
At today’s postage rates (49 cents for a first-class stamp) the county would have been on the hook for an additional $8,472.59 in the May 2017 election. That’s money not in the clerk’s office budget, so it would have to come from somewhere else.
The financial cost would have been dramatically higher during the 2016 general election, when turnout in Deschutes County was above 80 percent. That year, using the same stamp price and the same percentage of mailed returns, the cost would have been $23,089.78. Again, Blankenship had no money to pay that bill.
A minority of lawmakers have tried in each of the last two sessions to get the state to require prepaid ballot return envelopes and have been unable to persuade a majority of their compatriots to agree. This proposal is simply a stealth attempt to accomplish the same thing, and, like its more direct predecessors, it should be defeated.