California Elections

Voting by mail in Sacramento? Don’t forget the second stamp

Election assistant Jason Parks prepares ballots to be extracted on Wednesday, November 7, 2012, in Sacramento, Calif.
Election assistant Jason Parks prepares ballots to be extracted on Wednesday, November 7, 2012, in Sacramento, Calif.

If that ballot envelope seems a little heavier this year, that’s because it is.

So heavy, in fact, that it requires two stamps of postage.

The 17 statewide measures and numerous local, state and national races add up to a hefty package. The three 17-inch ballot cards Sacramento County voters are filling out weigh more than an ounce, pushing them into the category requiring 68 cents of postage, Sacramento County Registrar Jill LaVine said.

The ballot envelope does not explicitly state how much postage is needed – only that it may require additional postage – so the county has added a flier explaining the two-stamp requirement, LaVine said. The exact postage could include a standard 47-cent Forever stamp and 21 cents of additional postage.

The unusually high number of statewide measures contributed to the length of the ballot this year, LaVine said. During the last few elections, she said everything fit on two ballot cards, which needed only one stamp.

If voters fail to add a second stamp, their ballots will still arrive at the elections office, said Meiko Patton, a spokeswoman for the United States Postal Service. The postal service passes on the bill for insufficient postage to counties, she said.

In previous election cycles, LaVine said the county has paid the postal service about $500 for ballots with insufficient postage. The cost could approach $1,000 this year due to higher voter turnout, she said.

The extra postage requirement can be a source of stress for voters, said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.

“My biggest worry about vote-by-mail postage is that voters don’t know that counties have a fail-safe,” she said. “They get very worried when they realize they didn’t put enough postage on their ballot envelopes.”

She said recognizing election mail and passing it on with or without correct postage is part of postal carrier training. As a result, she said she doesn’t think many ballots get returned to voters because of insufficient postage.

Though all California voters will consider 17 statewide measures, ballot length varies among counties, depending on the number of languages offered and number of local races and measures.

Voters in Yolo County get one ballot card this year, which requires only one stamp, Assistant Clerk-Recorder Susan Patenaude-Vigil said. Thirty-seven of Yolo County’s 133 precincts are mail-only because too few registered voters live in the precinct or the precinct is so large that no single polling place location would be convenient for all voters.

In Placer County, voters receive one ballot card and need only one stamp to send them back. Sixty-six percent of Placer County voters vote by mail, including 131 precincts that are mail-only, according to Ryan Ronco in the county elections office.

Since 2012, 1.5 million more voters have chosen to permanently vote by mail in California. Sixty-four percent of Sacramento County voters had requested a vote-by-mail ballot as of Monday. Voters have until Nov. 1 to request to receive one by mail, or they can get one at the county elections office until Election Day.

The Postal Service is encouraging voters to mail their ballots at least a week before the Nov. 8 deadline because recent USPS downsizing means it takes longer to process them, LaVine said. El Dorado County’s election office last week said that some voters were experiencing long delays in receiving their mail ballots due to USPS processing times.

LaVine’s office was closing in on 60,000 ballots returned as of Monday morning, a higher number than at this time in previous election cycles. As for how many people forget the extra stamp, she said the majority of voters use two stamps or drop ballots off at one of the designated spots around the county, which eliminates the need for postage.

Alexander said the California Voter Foundation has three tips for vote-by-mail voters: Get your ballot in early, make sure you have the correct postage and sign the envelope. Unsigned envelopes will not be counted.

Ellen Garrison: 916-321-1920, @EllenGarrison