Ballots will be delivered to the Whatcom County elections office, even if voters mail them with only one 49-cent stamp.
Post offices will charge the county 22 cents per ballot to cover the rest of the cost. The county auditor, who runs the election, said in the voters pamphlet and on an informational insert that came with the ballot that one stamp would be enough.
The ballot, which is unusually long this year, ended up weighing a little more than 1 ounce, which is the most a piece of mail can weigh and still require only one stamp.
“When we had done our tests, we thought it was going to be right at one ounce,” said Diana Bradrick, the county’s chief deputy auditor. One tenth of an ounce was added in the final printing.
The difference was so slight that the post offices’ automated sorters didn’t register the extra weight, according to Bradrick and Lynden Postmaster Brian Mouche.
The post office only noticed the ballots were overweight when someone came up to the counter to mail a ballot.
$7,668 Estimated cost to county of additional postage
$420,000-$450,000 Estimated cost of 2015 Whatcom general election
“We haven’t had (ballots that weigh) over an ounce in a while,” Mouche said. “We don’t want to delay those, we want those to count — especially (when it gets close to) Election Day.”
About half of returned ballots are delivered through the mail, Bradrick said. The rest come in through 14 drop boxes throughout the county.
Based on turnout during the last odd-year election, in 2013, the extra postage would cost county taxpayers an additional $7,668, or less than 2 percent of the cost of running the Nov. 3 election.
The full cost of this year’s general election probably will be $420,000 to $450,000, Bradrick said.
What tipped the scales on this year’s ballot was the once-every-decade review of the Whatcom County charter, which is essentially the county’s constitution.
“There are 10 charter review amendments on the ballot,” Bradrick said. “That’s what’s taking up so much space.”
Rumors spread on social media on Wednesday, Oct. 21, that ballots with one stamp were being returned to voters. Bradrick on Thursday reassured people that wasn’t happening.
“We have communicated with the post office,” she said. “It’s been a standard practice anyway; it’s nothing new. The post office has always delivered to us with postage due on (the ballots).”
The confusion over whether ballots were going to be delivered and counted mostly affected rural conservatives, said Charlie Crabtree, chairman of the county Republican Party.
“County voters have a farther way to go for putting their ballots in a ballot box,” Crabtree said. “The option for county voters is more likely to be mail. It is a concern, and we will be working on that concern throughout the rest of the campaign to make sure people are aware their vote will get counted.”
Crabtree said Republicans will encourage their supporters to use the drop boxes — a message that’s also coming from the Auditor’s Office.
“We encourage people to use the drop boxes for a lot of reasons,” Bradrick said.
These reasons include better security; only elections officials handle a voter’s ballot if it goes into a drop box. Postage stamps aren’t required, and ballots can be dropped into the boxes right up to the election deadline, 8 p.m. on Nov. 3. Also, the county won’t have to pay the extra 22 cents per ballot mailed with one stamp.
People mailing their ballots are asked to get them to the post office at least one day before Election Day.
Whatcom County reported 4,953 of 128,345 ballots returned as of Thursday afternoon, Oct. 22.