Pre-paid postage: How did we do?

As a state that votes entirely by mail, providing pre-paid postage on ballot return envelopes is a subject that comes up from time to time. So this year, we decided to test pre-paid postage with the February 14 special election in Maple Valley and the Shoreline School District. Voters in both jurisdictions received ballot packets that included a return envelope with the postage already paid.

One of the reasons we tested pre-paid postage was to see if more voters returned their ballots than in previous special elections. And they did! Voter turnout was 37 percent in Maple Valley, and 40 percent in the Shoreline School District. During the previous special election, voter turnout was 32 percent in Maple Valley and 30 percent in Shoreline.

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While many factors impact voter turnout, we are excited to see the increased participation. Our team will test pre-paid postage again for an upcoming election to study its overall impact.

Another outcome of pre-paid postage was that more voters chose to mail their ballots than to use one of nine drop boxes open for the election. About 74 percent of ballots were returned through the mail and 26 percent through drop boxes.

The pre-paid postage test cost King County Elections $10,140.

Maple Valley voters rejected a general obligation bond for park and recreation facility improvements. Voters in the Shoreline School District, which includes Lake Forest Park, approved a school construction bond.

Final results of the special election will be certified later today.

Voting while Homeless

In 2011, Washington State shifted to vote by mail. For every election in which you are eligible to vote, we mail you a ballot with measures and candidates specific to your address. While vote by mail has improved voter access for many, not all voting-age residents have a traditional address. In the 2016 King County One Night Count, over 10,000 people, the majority of which are of voting age, were counted as being homeless. These people are staying in many places ranging from encampments to emergency shelters and transitional housing. So how do they get access to voting?

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Washington State law states that ‘No person registering to vote, who meets all the qualifications of a registered voter in the state of Washington, shall be disqualified because he or she lacks a traditional residential address.’ King County Elections only needs an intersection, landmark, park, shelter or other identifiable location to register someone who lacks a traditional address. Our Geographic Information Systems (GIS) team will use the information provided to assign a precinct.

A mailing address is required for a non-traditional address since we still need somewhere to mail your ballot. This can be another challenge but there are organizations that provide mail service. They will hold mail anywhere from two weeks to up to three months depending on the organization, giving someone time to pick up a ballot that was mailed there. The Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness offers current information on these organizations. Once votes are cast, a ballot can be placed in the mail or dropped off free of charge at any of our ballot drop boxes.

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But sometimes things come up and you’re not able to vote with your mailed ballot. Maybe you’ve gotten yourself registered and you have a good mailing address but now you’ve lost your ballot. Or maybe you couldn’t get to your mail location. King County offers online ballot access, as well as Accessible Voting Centers where our staff is always happy to assist voters at the last minute.

King County Elections wants to ensure that every eligible voter has access to receive and cast their ballot, no matter their living situation.

How a Citizens’ Committee Helps Maintain the Integrity of Elections

Elections and voter registration systems are back in the headlines. And all the talk about alleged voter fraud may have you wondering how King County measures up. But did you know the County has a group of citizens whose job is to help maintain the integrity of our elections system? The Citizens’ Elections Oversight Committee (CEOC) was established in 2006 by King County ordinance with the mission “…to help King County restore and maintain public confidence in elections.”

The CEOC is tasked with making recommendations to improve processes and to help ensure that the work of the Department of Elections is transparent and meaningful to County residents.

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The CEOC meeting in October 2016.

The committee is comprised of 12 members, and two non-voting members. Members are appointed by the Chair of the King County Council and confirmed by the County Council. Members include representatives from the county Democratic and Republican parties, the Chinese and Vietnamese-speaking community and registered voters. Here’s a full list of members.

The committee meets monthly at King County Election’s headquarters in Renton where Director Julie Wise and other staff provide updates on current operations. Just recently the committee was briefed on a project to upgrade elections equipment and our pre-paid postage pilot for the February special election.

Committee members also produce an annual report to the King County Council. The report gives an overview of the committee’s activities during the year, as well as recommendations on communication and outreach and process improvements. More recently, committee members helped us secure locations for new ballot drop boxes, particularly the one at the University of Washington. They also played an active role in the process to replace elections equipment.

What’s a Special Election?

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What’s so special about a “special election?” Why do we have them? Special elections are important local elections that probably impact you more than you’d think. So let’s get down to the basics.

Special elections are for proposed legislation that voters can approve or reject. The legislation is referred to as a ballot measure or sometimes as a “proposition.” Special elections are for ballot measures or propositions and typically do not have candidate races.

During a special election, voters decide on a local budget issue, such as how to pay for a new school, park or fire station.  In February and April, any of King County’s jurisdictions can choose to hold a special election. Only voters who live in the jurisdiction can participate in a local election.

On February 14, Maple Valley and the Shoreline School District are holding a special election, impacting about 64,000 registered voters. There are no special elections being planned in April just yet but check back here for updates.

Unfortunately, special elections have pretty low voter turnout. The February 2016 special election included 13 ballot measures impacting nearly 630,000 voters. Voters from Auburn to Seattle cast their ballots on a variety of school budget issues, such as funding capital projects and upgrading technology. Voter turnout was 29%.

 

 

King County Elections Tests Pre-Paid Postage

We’re excited to announce that King County Elections is testing pre-paid postage for the February special elections in Maple Valley and the Shoreline School District. During last year’s General Election, we received some questions from voters about why we didn’t pay for the postage on ballots returned through the U.S. Postal Service. We have considered the idea in recent years, but before we can implement pre-paid postage, we knew we had to test it out first.

Prepaid postage is another way to improve voter access and remove barriers to voting. Objectives for the pre-paid postage pilot include understanding whether or not the process works administratively and to see if more voters return their ballots than in previous elections.

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Ballot packets were mailed Wednesday to voters in Maple Valley and the Shoreline School District. Each ballot packet includes a return envelope with the postage already paid. For more information about our pre-paid postage test, check out the Q&A below.

1. Why are you testing pre-paid postage?
a. We are testing pre-paid postage to determine a number of things, including whether paid postage results in more voters returning their ballots.

2. How much will pre-paid postage cost for the two elections? And who is going to pay for it?
a. We estimate that the cost of paid postage will total $12,300. For Maple Valley the cost is about $3,300 and for the Shoreline School District it is about $9,000. King County Elections will cover the costs for both elections. However, we are only charged for ballots returned through the U.S. Postal Service.

3. How were the elections for the pre-paid postage test chosen?
a. We wanted a sample population, and with a combined 64,032 voters, the Shoreline School District and Maple Valley elections were an appropriate sample.
Ideally, with more than one jurisdiction participating, we will also gain an understanding of whether or not there are significant differences between jurisdictions.

4. How are you reaching out to voters about the pre-paid pilot program?
a. Voters will receive a return envelope with language indicating that the postage has been paid. They will also receive an insert explaining that the postage for their return envelope has been paid.
b. We are also getting the word out through our social media channels.

5. Do you think pre-paid postage will lead to more ballots returned?
a. Prepaid postage is just another tool to improve voter access, remove barriers to voting and increase convenience, like ballot drop boxes. Other jurisdictions who have implemented pre-paid postage have not seen a significant increase in turnout. However, one of the main objectives of testing pre-paid postage is to see if more voters return their ballots than in previous elections.

6. Given that more than half of returned ballots were brought to a drop box in the General Election, why are you testing pre-paid postage?
a. We’re certainly seeing that the additional drop boxes were widely used by voters. However, more than 500,000 voters still chose to mail in their ballots. Our ultimate goal is to make voting as easy and barrier-free as possible – so it’s great to be able to provide voters with options.

7. Will you still have drop boxes open? If so, which ones?
a. The following drop boxes will be open: Shoreline Library, Lake Forest Park City Hall, Bothell City Hall, Lake City Library, Broadview Library, King County Administration Building, King County Elections Headquarters in Renton, Covington Library, and Tahoma School District.

What Do We Do All Year?

You might wonder: what does the Elections department do all year? What does it do when there isn’t a General Election? Our 66 employees work year-round on a variety of things. Here are just some of the projects and tasks we take on:

kce_bb_20161107-198 (Timothy Aguero's conflicted copy 2016-11-07).jpgElections: Washington state holds up to four elections per year. In February, any of King County’s 191 jurisdictions can choose to hold a special election. Special elections are for ballot measures, such as a parks and recreation bond. They do not have candidate races. On February 14, Maple Valley and the Shoreline School District are holding a special election, impacting about 62,000 registered voters. In April, there is another opportunity for jurisdictions to hold a second special election.

Primary elections occur in August. General Elections, as you probably already know, are held each November. This year’s General Election is for local races, and there are several big ones on the ballot, including races for Seattle Mayor and King County Executive.

Voter registration: Throughout the year we add new voter registrations, clear up voter registration issues and cancel the registrations of deceased voters or voters who have moved out of the county. Over the last year, King County added 88,769 new voters. And we canceled the registration of about 58,000 voters.

About 8,500 of canceled registrations belonged to deceased voters. We check the newspaper obituaries each day to see who has died, and cross reference their name, date of birth and other important information with our voter registration database. We also confirm deaths through information shared with us from other government agencies or from the family of a deceased voter.

kce_bb_20161107-236Candidate filing: Those seeking public office must file a Declaration of Candidacy with the Elections department or with the Secretary of State, depending on the office. There will be about 315 offices up for election in 2017. Candidates must also meet the qualifications for the office at the time of filing and be registered to vote in the district they are seeking to represent. Our staff processes candidate filings for every candidate running for office in King County, verifying their Declaration of Candidacy and keeping them updated on filing deadlines.

Process improvements: Throughout the year our teams measure the impact of new programs or projects. And on an ongoing basis, we look at ways to make process improvements. We evaluate the efficiency of our processes and determine if there are things we can be doing better. For example, this year we’re replacing our elections equipment with a newer system that can better meet our needs.

King County Elections 2017 Legislative Priorities

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The 2017 Washington State legislative session opened this week, and we wanted to let you know about our priorities for this session. We have five main priorities to make voting as accessible and barrier-free as possible. Ultimately, we believe that improving voting accesses makes government more representative of the public. Here’s a look at our top legislative priorities:

Better accommodate voters by providing more time to register
Eligible voters in King County currently have up to 29 days before an election to register to vote by mail or online, and they can register in person no later than 8 days before Election Day. We would like to provide additional time for registration. In the 2016 legislation session, SHB 1428 and SSB 5527 sought to extend the voter registration deadlines. Providing more time is both administratively feasible and less costly.

Pass the Washington Voting Rights Act
The Washington State Voting Rights Act is an important step to address the problem of voter exclusion. The proposed act recognizes that every community is different and should be allowed to elect candidates in as representative a manner as possible. It doesn’t mandate any particular voting system, but simply provides local options.

Make it easier to register
There should be no barriers to registering to vote. Voting is our constitutional right and election organizations should make it as easy as possible.

  • Pre-Registration: The vast majority of voters register through the DMV. It’s easy, convenient and efficient. Many drivers come in contact with the DMV at age 16 and then don’t interact with agency again until they are 21. Pre-registration of 16 and 17-year-olds allows us to capture these voters early and automatically enroll them when they turn 18.
  • Automatic Voter Registration: Automatically enrolling voters when they get their driver’s license is the most efficient and effective way to add citizens to our voter rolls. Voting is your right – you shouldn’t have to take steps to get your ballot.

Pay for state election costs
The state currently pays only their share of election costs in odd numbered years, the opposite of when there are state races on the ballot. For King County alone, the average unfunded state election cost in these years is about $4 million. The King County General Fund currently covers this expense. We would like to see the state pay for election costs during years when there are state races on the ballot.

Allow online disability access to take the place of Accessible Voting Units (AVUs)
Amend the law to clarify that providing access to the internet at a counter can take the place of an Accessible Voting Unit (AVU).

By the Numbers: 2016 General Election

We crunched the numbers for the November 2016 General Election to see how the county’s six biggest cities voted. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton carried all six cities in her bid for U.S. President. While Seattle and Bellevue voted overwhelmingly for Clinton, Republican candidate and now President-elect Donald J. Trump fared better in south King County. Trump lost to Clinton by fewer than 10,000 votes in Federal Way.

As for the Sound Transit 3 Proposition, it’s no surprise that a vast majority of voters approved the measure in urban Seattle. Bellevue narrowly approved ST3 by just 162 votes. Kent, Kirkland, Renton and Federal Way all rejected the transportation measure. ST3 passed in King County with 58% approval.

Seattle led the way for the highest voter turnout, followed by Kirkland and Bellevue. Turnout was lowest in Federal Way. In all, King County had a turnout of 82%. This was the first time Elections received and processed more than 1 million ballots, which is largely due to a growth in new voter registrations. Over the last year, King County added 88,769 new voters.

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The results are in: King County voters really like having additional ballot boxes

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King County’s action to quadruple the number of ballot boxes this year proved to be really popular among voters. More than half of the ballots returned during the General Election were dropped off at a ballot box, a sharp increase from previous elections.

With strong support from King County Executive Dow Constantine and funding provided by the Metropolitan King County Council, Elections Director Julie Wise increased the number of drop boxes located across the county, from 10 to 43.

More than 90 percent of King County residents now live within 3 miles a ballot box.

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The new drop box locations were selected based on criteria that included geographically isolated or culturally distinct communities as well as areas that have lower than average voter registration rates. Working with King County’s Office of Equity and Social Justice, Elections evaluated more than 100 locations.

The new drop boxes were installed in two phases: 19 locations were added for the 2016 Primary and an additional 14 opened for the General Election. King County Council members, the Executive and local officials celebrated the openings by hosting ribbon cutting ceremonies at several locations, including the Kingsgate Library in Kirkland and the Lake City Library in Seattle.

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King County Elections will continue to evaluate locations for additional drop boxes, particularly in communities that have historically been underserved.

Top 10 Election Movies

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We know, we know. It’s been a really long election year. But if you’re anything like us, you can’t get enough of watching democracy in action. Curl up on the couch this holiday season and binge watch some of our favorite election and voting rights movies. From drama to comedy, we’ve got you covered:

1. Selma 
This historical drama chronicles the 1965 Selma to Montgomery Alabama voting rights marches lead by civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr.

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2.  The Ides of March
A political dram a starring George Clooney, The Ides of March is about a scandal during a contested presidential primary.

3. Election
This black comedy-drama starring Reese Witherspoon is about a high school student’s battle for class president.

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4. Suffragette
Set in 1912, Suffragette chronicles the stories of women fighting for the right to vote in the United Kingdom.

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5. The Campaign
This political satire comedy starring the hilarious Will Ferrell is about the Congressional race for a fictional 14th District in North Carolina.

6. Milk
This 2008 film is based on the life of gay rights activist and politician Harvey Milk. Milk was the first gay person to be elected to public office in California, serving on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

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7. Black Sheep
Starring Chris Farley and David Spade, Black Sheep is a comedy about a candidate’s race for Governor of Washington. Farley plays the candidate’s embarrassing younger brother.

8. Our Brand is Crisis 
Starring Sandra Bullock, this comedy drama is a fictionalized account of American political strategists working for a candidate in the 2002 Bolivian presidential election.

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9. Napoleon Dynamite
This 2004 comedy revolves around the socially-awkward Napoleon Dynamite, a high school student from Idaho. Napoleon helps his friend Pedro run for class president.

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10. Primary Colors
Primary Colors is a fictional account of Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign.

Did we leave out any of your favorites? Let us know in the comments below.