[Image courtesy of knoxstamps]
We have now reached that time of year when the aphorism “there is no such thing as small stuff in elections” becomes true with a vengeance. Last Friday, I covered the story about Sharpies and ballots in New Mexico, but sometimes the “small stuff” confronting election officials is completely outside their control. Take, for example, Shasta County in northern California, where vote-by-mail ballots are coming in postage due because the region’s autumn humidity is making them slightly too heavy for a first-class stamp. The Record Searchlight has more:
Blame the October moisture. But some Shasta County voters are paying an extra 21 cents in postage — this on top of the 49-cent stamp — to mail their absentee ballots …
[County clerk and registrar Cathy] Darling Allen said this year’s ballot weighed 0.9 ounces in June, when her office took it to the post office for testing. More recently, the two agencies found the ballot weighed 1.2 ounces.
“There is moisture in the air. It does affect the texture of the paper, and it is absorbent,” she said.
Voters who don’t pay the extra postage will still have their ballots counted; the county has an account with the Postal Service to cover postage due and is aggressively making sure it gets every ballot returned by a voter:
Darling Allen… said the U.S. Postal Service will still deliver [postage due ballots], and her office is picking up the difference for any extra postage.
“They already know about this issue,” she said of the postal service. “They understand that the purple and green ballots” are being dropped off “and they get them to us as fast as they can.”
In addition, her office is recommending that voters who have yet to return their ballots bring them to the election office or drop them at one of four official dropboxes across the county. This last piece of advice is especially valuable, since this election will be the last where California law requires that ballots arrive by Election Day to be counted.
Postage on mailed ballots (whether called absentee, vote by mail or something else) has been an ongoing issue between election officials and the Postal Service. For now, the typical practice mirrors Shasta’s – if the USPS charges postage due, the county pays it – but as the number of mailed ballots increases (and election budgets get tighter) this may become more and more of a challenge nationwide. If Congress ever manages to release the clutch and get moving again on election policy, this is an issue that could use some scrutiny.
Until then, county election offices like Shasta may have to consider investing in humidifiers as part of their mail ballot preparation … better soggy than sorry, no?