Snohomish, Whatcom and some Douglas County voters will be paying a little extra in postage to vote this year because of extra-long ballots. Ballots, however, can be returned for free if you use a county drop box.
Voters in three Washington counties will have to pay a tad more than normal to mail back their election ballots this year.
Because of extra-long ballots stuffed with initiatives, voters in Snohomish County, Whatcom County and most of Douglas County will have to pay more than just the usual first-class stamp to return their ballots.
In each county, the need for extra postage is noted on voter material and on the return envelope. Ballots were sent to voters across the state last week. In all but those three counties, it costs 47 cents — the price of one standard, first-class stamp — to return a ballot.
Snohomish County voters will have to pay 68 cents, the price the U.S. Postal Service charges for oversize or unusual envelopes, unless they opt to return their ballots via one of the county’s 18 drop boxes.
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Whatcom County voters also will have to pay 68 cents. Because of the number of advisory votes and initiatives, the ballot is 17 inches long, as opposed to the usual 14- or 15-inch ballot, Whatcom County Auditor Debbie Adelstein said.
Adelstein said officials looked into using a smaller text font, so they wouldn’t have to enlarge the ballots, but could fit everything in only by using 8-point type, which she deemed too small.
Nearly 70 percent of the county’s ballots are typically returned, free of cost, via one of its 15 drop boxes, Adelstein said. Statewide, nearly 40 percent of Washington voters used a drop box in 2014, according to survey data.
In Douglas County, some precincts required an extra page to fit everything on the ballot. In those precincts, representing about 13,000 of the Central Washington county’s nearly 21,000 registered voters, people will have to pay 68 cents to return ballots.
The county also has six drop-box locations.
There is another way to return ballots free of cost, although counties don’t really like to tell you about it. The Postal Service is supposed to deliver returned ballots to the counties even if they lack proper postage, rather than return them to the senders.
The counties then reimburse the Postal Service for the missing postage, although they have no appropriated funding to do so.
“They would not reject ballots for lack of postage,” said Dave Ammons, a spokesman for Secretary of State Kim Wyman.
The Legislature has repeatedly considered making return ballots postage-free, a topic that has emerged as a minor issue in this year’s campaign for secretary of state. The state estimated last year that it would cost between $2 million and $3 million per two-year election cycle to put prepaid return postage on every ballot.