By SARAH ZIMMERMAN Associated Press
SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Gov. Kate Brown is pressing Oregon lawmakers to pass a measure paying for prepaid postage on mail-in ballots, a move she says would boost voter turnout in a state that boasts one of the highest electoral participation rates in the country.
"While Oregon's vote by mail system is one of the most innovative ways any state has increased voter access, it's also hobbled by something less modern: the postage stamp," the governor testified on Monday.
California and Washington state have already passed measures requiring election officials to provide prepaid mail ballots.
Oregon became a leader in voting accessibility after switching to a vote by mail system 2000. The state also became the first to implement a robust automatic voter registration system that automatically signs people up to vote when they get a driver's license.
But the governor notes that postage stamp can still act as a "functional barrier" for some people, particularly low-income and young people who are less likely to have stamps.
Currently, voters who can't afford stamps can turn in their ballots for free at their county clerk's office or at a ballot drop box. The United States Postal Office has also said that it will still deliver mail-in ballots without a stamp, and it will leave election offices to pick up the bill.
Brown said that drop boxes can still be a hurdle for people with disabilities and for rural voters who may have to travel great distances to turn in their ballots.
Although the governor has made prepaid ballots a top priority in her budget plan last year, House Speaker Tina Kotek said that the state may not be able to afford it. Legislative budget leaders are recommending a 5 percent cut across nearly all state programs to pay for its Medicaid debt and struggling school system.
"The question is: Will we have money for it at the end of the day?" Kotek told reporters on Monday. "I don't know."
An official from the Secretary of State's Office testified it would cost the state between $1.5 million and $3 million for the prepaid postage, depending on how many voters actually send in the ballots.
Brown, who recently took a trip to Washington, D.C., to champion the state's leadership in voter access, said that the price is worth it and that the state needs to "take further actions" to "maintain a strong democracy."