In a few weeks, registered voters in Oregon will receive their ballot in the mail. They'll have to return it to county election officials by Nov. 6 to be counted. That will be easier said than done for some people because Oregon has not taken one of the easiest steps to empower voters — putting postage on the return envelopes.
In 1998, Oregonians overwhelmingly ratified voting by mail with Measure 60. That's the same year that Google was founded, and Facebook was still years away. In other words, when Oregon adopted vote-by-mail, the internet wasn't the ubiquitous presence it is today.
Don't worry. We're not about to suggest that Oregon go to online voting. The technology isn't ready to guarantee security, and having a paper trail for later audits and recounts is immensely valuable.
But the postage stamp remains a barrier, and the state should pony up to cover postage-paid envelopes.
We got to thinking about this again after reading a recent report from Virginia that found many millennial college students don't have stamps around and might not even know where to buy them. That might surprise to older generations, but remember, they communicate, pay bills, find information, even meet dating partners online. They don't stockpile stamps or visit post offices. And that's alright. Times change.
Oregon should take every reasonable step to encourage those young people to vote. People who vote soon after they turn 18 are much more likely than their peers to develop a lifetime habit of casting ballots. That's good for democracy.
The cost of a stamp might seem inconsequential to most people, but it can factor into the budget of low-income Oregonians, especially if they are buying them for multiple people in a household. Meanwhile, just getting to the post office can be a barrier for aging seniors who no longer drive and for people with disabilities.
Voters can drop off their ballots by Election Day, but getting to a drop box at county offices or a local library can also be a barrier. Voters must find time during business hours, hope that a bus goes to the right place or they have gas to spare. Transportation again becomes a challenge for people who cannot drive, and in rural areas there might not be a nearby drop box.
The U.S. Postal Service will deliver ballots that are missing postage, but that's not widely known. It would be clearer and easier to provide postage from the start.
In recent years, lawmakers from Eugene have sponsored bills to have the state pay for ballot postage, including a bill in 2017 that had the backing of Sen. James Manning Jr. It died in committee without a vote. Legislative analysts figured it would cost $1.3 million to $2.6 million to cover all of the elections over a two-year budget cycle and depending on how many people return ballots.
That's small price to remove a barrier for young, low-income and transportation-challenged Oregonians. Our democracy will be stronger when the state increases the ability of everyone to participate by removing the need for a stamp.
-- The Eugene Register-Guard