Do Oregon voters fail to return their ballots because of the price of – or inconvenience of obtaining – a postage stamp?
Two Democratic legislators think in a significant number of cases, the answer is ‘yes.’
They’re backing a bill to provide postage on mail-in ballots, at a cost to taxpayers of about $650,000 per year.
“We know there are ballots out there that are not getting in,” Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, told the Senate Rules Committee on Monday. “We would like to remove the impediment that is there for some people to mailing their ballot that has to do with the postage stamp.”
“The purpose of this legislation is to increase participation in our representative democracy,” said Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin. “If this legislation were to lead to a 5 or even 10 percent increase in voter turnout then I believe this expenditure of public dollars will be very well spent.”
Oregon is one of three states that conduct elections entirely by mail, eliminating polling centers.
Ballots are mailed to registered voters, and can be returned by mail for the cost of a forever stamp — currently 49 cents. Or they can be taken to county-designated drop-off sites.
But those sites are not as numerous or convenient as former polling places, Devlin said.
Low-income or disabled voters, as well as people in institutions such as nursing homes, might have difficulty procuring a stamp or making it to a drop site, he said.
And young people – accustomed to conducting all their business online – might find a trip to the post office onerous.
“They are just not into the stamp culture,” Dembrow said.
Senate Bill 683 would include business-class postage on ballot return envelopes. That means the state would be charged only if the ballot is returned through the mail.
It would take effect with elections held after Jan. 1, 2019. It would cost about $300,000 in the 2017-2019 budget, and about $1.3 million for each 2-year budget after that.
Not all committee members were convinced of the need.
“It seems absolutely unreasonable that we would incur millions of dollars of expenses for postage, essentially to acknowledge that we’ve become so dysfunctional in society, and our ballot casting is of so little value, that we couldn’t cover the cost of a stamp,” committee vice-chairman and Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli said.
The committee did not take action on the bill.