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Does it need stamps? How many stamps? What kind of stamps?
JUST SEND IT

How much does it cost to mail an absentee ballot?

Annalisa Merelli
By Annalisa Merelli

Geopolitics reporter

This post has been updated.

In the fast-approaching midterm elections, nearly a quarter of US voters are expected to cast their ballots by mail. Voting by mail is a necessity for people who are ill or living abroad, and some states allow all residents to vote by mail, as a convenience.

In many cases, those citizens will have to pay for the privilege of voting by mail: postage. But since each ballot requires different postage, the process of figuring out the cost of your vote isn’t easy.

US Postal Service guidelines say that the ballots must indicate “the specific amount of First-Class Mail postage.” They also say that ballot envelopes “must indicate in a prominent location that the proper amount of postage must be paid” with the marking “First-Class Mail postage must be applied.”

[…] all ballot types for any election, whether disseminated hardcopy or electronically, must indicate in a prominent location on the balloting materials the specific amount of First-Class Mail postage required for return by mail to election officials.

Yet, Quartz has found that many US ballot materials do not indicate the required postage in a prominent location. In fact, postage requirements are often not explained at all, not even in the voting instructions.

Without standardized pricing and sometimes without clear instructions, US citizens who vote by mail must go to the post-office to weigh and pay for their individual envelopes—hardly a convenient solution for citizens who chose to vote by mail because of limited mobility or time, in the first place.

 

Other countries, like Italy, do not charge postage on mail-in ballots—even from abroad. As Vote.org CEO Raven Brooks says, “things like [ballot postage] reduce voter participation, because many people today don’t even have stamps or readily know where to get them.”

How much postage does it cost to mail in your vote? Depends.

There is no centralized source of information for ballot postage. Most states do not publish information about the postage cost, or include it in the instructions. What is a US voter to do?

Quartz called 50 states’ electoral information offices. After a tour of regional accents, here’s how they answered the question “How much postage is required to mail in this year’s ballot?” In many cases, office representatives were not able to answer the question. In others, they seemed uncertain, or ventured a response that did not take into account the different postage costs of different counties within the state.

Quartz also asked readers how much they paid for ballot postage, and whether the ballot instructions said how much postage was required. Through their answers, we were able to cross check at some of the information we received from the states’ offices.

Below, consider “stamp” to mean one “Forever” First Class mail stamp. If any of the postage costs note below don’t add up with your experience, please let me know at nalis@qz.com. The article will be updated accordingly.

Alabama: (¯\_(ツ)_/¯)

Reached about postage requirement on ballot, the Alabama Secretary of State was unhelpful, telling Quartz: “I know it’s more than normal, but I don’t know exactly how much.”

Alaska: (¯\_(ツ)_/¯)

Alaska’s ballot may vary depending on the county. The division of election wasn’t able to provide details on postage requirements beyond that, but it said that the exact amount of required postage would be indicated in the voting instructions.

Arizona: ✅

Postage paid, no stamp required.

Arkansas: 💮💮💮

Three stamps.

California: 💮

While postage is free in parts of California, some counties still require postage.  A 71 cent stamp should do, according to the state election information line, and most instructions will clearly state the exact amount. In Madera, Napa, Nevada, Sacramento and San Mateo, all ballots are mailed. By 2019, all of California will provide paid-postage ballots to mail-in voters.

Connecticut: (¯\_(ツ)_/¯)  

“I have no idea.”

Delaware: (¯\_(ツ)_/¯)

“It should just be one [stamp], I am not sure.”

*Florida:

In some Florida counties the postage is paid. In others, however, the postage varies. Readers have reported paying postage from 50 cents to $1.42.

Georgia: 

Georgia’s office of the secretary of state said that ballot postage information had requested at the county level. We checked with Fulton county, the state’s most populous county; there, the election office said, “It varies, but it shouldn’t take more than two stamps.”

*Hawaii: ✅

Postage is paid for Hawaii voters. (Though the response we got was “I’m not sure, maybe one stamp?”)

Idaho: 💮

Ballots can be sent in with a 49 cent stamp, said the gentleman on the electoral information service line.

*Illinois:

Some counties in Illinois pay for postage. Others, however, don’t. One reader from Kendall county sent a photo of his ballot, which said “Postage Required. Post Office will not deliver without postage.” (However, it will—see below).

Indiana: ✅

Postage paid, no stamp required.

Iowa: ✅

Postage paid, no stamp required.

Kansas: ✅

Postage paid, no stamp required.

Kentucky: (¯\_(ツ)_/¯)  

“I don’t know, it depends on how many pages you want to mail back; it’s anywhere between 47 cents and $3,” the Kentucky representative told Quartz.

Louisiana: (¯\_(ツ)_/¯)  

Though she couldn’t provide an exact cost, the woman answering Louisiana’s information line offered this practical advice: “Whatever the postage was on the ballot when you received it, use the same postage.”

Maine: 💮

Absentee Mainers can send in their votes with a 71 cent stamp.

Maryland: 💮💮

“I would do two stamps,” a state representative told Quartz.

Massachusetts: 💮💮💮

“It’s 84 cents or something; just put three forever stamps on it.”

Michigan: 💮

Put a 71 cent stamp on it.

Minnesota: ✅

Postage paid, no stamp required.

Mississippi: (¯\_(ツ)_/¯)  

“I think one stamp would do it,” the election information line told Quartz. Better to hit your local post office and check by weighing the envelope.

Missouri: (¯\_(ツ)_/¯)  

“I have no idea.”

Montana: 💮

According to one very knowledgeable spokesperson at the Secretary of State, the ballot typically requires 50 cents (one stamp) to mail. If your ballot has more than one page, the price rises to 71 cents. However, he said, that if the voter only wanted to put one stamp, the county would pay for the remaining postage. In many Montana counties, the mail-in instructions will specify the exact cost.

Nebraska: 💮💮

Two forever stamps.

Nevada ✅

Postage paid, “no postage is necessary.”

New Hampshire: (¯\_(ツ)_/¯)  

The New Hampshire State Secretary voter information line was not able to offer information on ballot postage. “[The cost] would be whatever the cost is from wherever [the voters] are,” the hotline operator told Quartz.

*New Jersey:

Some New Jersey counties pay for return postage, and no stamp is required. Other ballots, however, bear the direction “place stamp here.”

New Mexico: 💮💮💮

“It’s a surprise!” the woman on the State Secretary’s electoral line joked, but offered a very precise answer: It’s $1.21 at the post office or $1.45 with stamps (3 stamps).

New York: (¯\_(ツ)_/¯)  

Not only did the man working at the Secretary of State in New York have no answers, he seemed genuinely surprised by the question.

North Carolina 💮

One Forever stamp.

North Dakota 💮

One Forever stamp.

Ohio 💮

A 71 cent stamp, as indicated in the mail-in ballot instructions.

Oklahoma 💮

Two stamps, or 69 cents if mailed from the post office. 

Oregon 💮

One Forever stamp.

Pennsylvania 

“It’s slightly over a stamp,” the electoral line responder said. She cautioned, “I don’t think you can know until you weigh it.”

Rhode Island 💮

It’s three stamps, or $1.45 if mailed from the post office.

South Carolina 💮

One stamp.

South Dakota (¯\_(ツ)_/¯)  

“I am not sure what the standard is.”

Tennessee 💮

“Mmm… I think one stamp should do it.”

*Texas

In some counties, postage is paid, y’all! Others require postage: Lubbock county, for instance, instructs that “extra postage will be required if the postage to return carrier envelope with the ballot enclosed will be more than 1 ounce first class postage. Please make sure you have the correct postage so that your ballot will reach our office!! Thank you, The Elections Office.”

Utah ✅ /💮

In many counties, postage is paid. Elsewhere, a stamp is enough.

Vermont 💮

One Forever stamp is enough.

Virginia 💮

“It’s just one stamp.”

Washington ✅

“It’s paid postage for all.”

West Virginia (¯\_(ツ)_/¯)  

“Oh. I’m not sure.”

*Wisconsin ✅

Postage paid!

Wyoming

Wyoming’s Secretary of State suggested that voters get in touch with individual county officials for postage information. Wyoming County, the biggest in the state, said their ballots require one 50 cent stamp.

The Post Office’s Election Mail secret

Unless your postage is paid, or your instructions say how much postage you should add, there appears to be no way to be certain how many stamps your ballot requires, without taking it to the post office.

But there is good news: If you are in a rush, the truth is, in a pinch, you can always just put whatever postage, or even none, and drop it in the mailbox. USPS policy on handling electoral material is that people need to to pay for postage—but if for some reason they don’t, the ballot should still be delivered to the election office.

According to the “Requirements and Tips for Handling Official Election Mail and Political Campaign Mail” (bold original)’s FAQs:

Can all ballots be mailed free of postage?

No. […] All other types of ballots and balloting materials must bear postage using a permit imprint, postage meter, adhesive stamp, or other acceptable method of postage payment prior to mailing.

However, short-paid and unpaid absentee balloting materials must never be returned to the voter for additional postage. Postage is collected from the election office upon delivery or at a later date. 

This direction is repeated later:

If ballots are found in the mailstream without postage or with insufficient postage, should the normal procedures for short-paid mail be followed?

No. Short-paid and unpaid absentee balloting materials must never be returned to the voter for additional postage. Postage is collected from the election office upon delivery or at a later date.

Update: This post is being updated with information sent by our readers. A * next to the name of the state indicates it has been updated.

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