PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon will pay for prepaid postage on mail-in ballots for next year's general election under a law signed by Gov. Kate Brown Friday.
It's a bid to increase voter turnout in a state that already leads the nation in voter participation. Participation in the 2018 midterms topped 60%, according to the United States Elections Project, far higher than the 49% average nationwide.
"While Oregon is at the forefront of voter access, to maintain a strong democracy, we must take further actions to ensure voter accessibility," Brown said.
States with vote-by-mail systems send registered voters their ballot at least two weeks before an election. Voters can return ballots by mail, at a ballot drop-box, or at their county clerk's office.
But the governor, who made prepaid ballots a priority in last year's proposed budget, noted that a postage stamp can act as a deterrent to casting a ballot — especially for low-income voters and millennials who are less likely to have a stamp on hand. And although dropping off ballots in-person is free, Brown said those in rural areas may have to travel long distances making it another type of "barrier."
"It's time to make everyone's mailbox a drop-box — at no cost to the voter," she said.
The state will allocate nearly $1.7 million to pay postage costs, although the final price tag could be higher depending on how many voters actually send in ballots. Detractors from both parties opposed the high price tag, saying that there's no guarantee paid postage will substantially increase turnout and that the money would better be spent elsewhere.
"I can't wrap my head around the necessity of doing this," said Rep. Jeff Reardon, a Democrat from Happy Valley. "Stamps are already available. We're not funding a lot of things because we don't have the money to do that."
The United States Postal Office has said that it will still deliver mail-in ballots without a stamp, but leaves election offices to pick up the bill.
California and Washington state have already passed measures requiring election officials to provide prepaid mail ballots.