With elections on the horizon, let’s think for a bit about how we get this done. Most everyone would agree that making it as easy and safe to vote as reasonably possible should be very high on the list of things we expect of our government.
So why, in the name of good government, are we all fumbling about looking for stamps or trying to figure out where a ballot drop box is and when we are going to drop it off?
There is a better way. Just send the ballot out with a postage-paid return envelope, which is also known as a Business Reply Envelope or BRE.
That’s how they do it in California and Washington state. The impact on Colorado’s $29 billion budget would be minuscule. Based on costs in those states, ours would be probably less than $1.5 million per year if we have one-page ballots in a regular envelope.
It is time to end the last vestige of the poll tax. Quite possibly not much more needs to be said, but here goes, for those who are wavering.
The postage on a BRE doesn’t cost anything unless the ballots get mailed in, and it will get more people to vote. It is all about making voting easier and giving equal and easy access to everyone.
While other studies have shown less dramatic results, in a King County, Wash., study the percentage of returned ballots jumped from 43 percent to 74 percent when they tested BRE.
Let’s understand that when more people vote, our political parties move to the center of the political spectrum. This keeps our politicians from pandering to (and being beholden to) the political extremes. Making voting easier will keep legislative action more in line with what the true majority of our population desires, rather than reflecting the extreme views of political outliers.
This is especially true for our primary elections, which have trended very much to the extremes. As voter participation increases, our representative government just works better.
BRE will reduce the influence of large campaign contributions. If more people vote, the effect of targeted campaign funds is diminished, as it takes larger and larger amounts of money to influence larger groups of voters. The role of big money decreases as the number of voters increases. Therefore BRE, because it increases the number of voters, discourages vote-buying attempts.
Plus, our elections would not be subject to ugly scandals like that enveloping North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional District election (a race decided by less than 1,000 votes), where paid political operatives gathered up ballots in poor neighborhoods, promising to deliver them, but trashed them instead.
Currently, the return envelopes for ballots do not even inform the voter how much postage is required and burden the voter with guessing, overpaying or trying to get accurate information. By the way, none of us had a 70-cent stamp lying around that the last election ballot required. The Postal Service has even charged election officials as much as three times the cost of a BRE when ballots were mailed in with no postage.
BRE levels the playing field between the haves and the have-nots, between those who have a car and those who don’t, between those who can easily afford books of stamps and those who can’t, between those who regularly use the Postal Service and those who don’t (think Millennials), and those who need just an extra bit of easy and those who don’t.
BRE would empower everyone in difficult circumstances. Elderly individuals, especially those in assisted care facilities, may find it difficult to get to polling stations, may not travel to ballot drop boxes and are unlikely to have a supply of stamps. All overseas ballots go out with BRE. It’s federal law.
I understand it seems like a small thing, but if we take good care of the small things, the big things generally turn out much better. History tells us representative democracies are at their best when an informed voting public participates at a high level.
I am spearheading a citizens’ campaign to get the Colorado Legislature to require all statewide election ballots be mailed out with postage-paid return envelopes. Go to change.org, search “Colorado ballots,” and add your support. Or call Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg at 303-866-4872 and tell him to include this in his draft of election modernization legislation.
Editor’s note: This opinion piece was first published by the Pueblo Chieftain in February. Rich Lins of Colorado Springs is spearheading a citizens’ campaign for legislation to require all Colorado statewide election ballots be mailed with postage prepaid return envelopes.