Postage won't stop state voters

Counties must pay for lack of stamp in all-mail election

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SEATTLE -- As more than 3 million Washington voters finish filling out their ballots in the state's first presidential all-mail election, some should put two first-class stamps on envelopes in counties where the ballot weighs more than an ounce.

While ballots in Clark and King counties will require one 45-cent stamp, Kitsap County ballots will need two, because its counting equipment requires heavier paper stock, said Auditor Walter Washington. If using two stamps are a problem for voters, they can leave ballots in drop boxes, he said.

All 39 counties have a least two drop boxes, said Sheryl Moss, certification and training program manager in the Elections Division of the secretary of state's office.

Ballots vary by county, and the state leaves it up to counties to deal with the post office, she said.

"We will deliver to every election office whether they have sufficient postage or not," said Postal Service spokesman Ernie Swanson. "They (the counties) will make up the difference."

Ballots with insufficient postage are not returned to the sender.

"Election officials don't like us to mention that," Swanson said.

Counties can't afford to pay for mailing ballots without taxpayers' help. At the projected ballot return rate of 81 percent for 3.9 million register voters, the 45-cent stamps will add up to more than $1.4 million, if all of those ballots are sent though the postal service.

"It could become quite expensive (for counties and taxpayers)," said Moss. "It's not something they would want to be put out there."

But it hasn't been a big issue.

"Up to this point, I haven't heard this is a big problem (for counties)," she said.

The number of ballots without sufficient postage averaged about 1,100 each of the past two years, said Sherril Huff, elections director in King County, which includes Seattle and accounts for about a third of the votes in the state.

Ballots that require two stamps should have that information in the voting information from the county, Moss said.

In any case, voters should be confident a stamp won't stand in the way of casting their vote, said Kitsap Auditor Washington, who also is president of the Washington State Association of County Auditors.

"I can assure you, however, that all counties have a level of comfort that all voters will be afforded the ability to cast their ballots timely and have them counted," he said.

Counties sent ballots to voters this week. Voters can fill them out and return them any time up to the Nov. 6 postmark deadline.