Local Election

Voter alert: In Whatcom County, one stamp is not enough to return your ballot

Ballots wait to be counted at the Whatcom County Auditors office on Election Day, Nov., 2, 2010.
Ballots wait to be counted at the Whatcom County Auditors office on Election Day, Nov., 2, 2010. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

Voters in Whatcom and two other 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 Whatcom County, Snohomish 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.

Whatcom County voters will have to pay 68 cents if they use the U.S. Postal Service. 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 typically are 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.

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 repeatedly has 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.