SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (News4Utah) – Some voters are confused as certain counties will pay the return postage for their mail-in ballots, while several others don’t. Officials say it’s up to the counties and several factors play into the decision.
Salt Lake County Clerk Sherri Swensen said they’ve been paying for return postage since starting the mail-in elections for cities in 2013. When voters needed a stamp for absentee ballots Swensen said there were several problems.
“We found that people would put two ballots in one envelope to save on the postage,” said Swensen.
Of Utah’s 29 counties, 27 do majority mail-in elections. Only nine of those counties pay for the return postage. Utah Director of Elections Justin Lee notes that those decisions are left to the counties.
“When a county goes to an all mail-in election the law does not require they pay for return postage,” said Lee. “It gives them the option basically.”
Several counties said even when they offered postage many voters still dropped off their ballots. One clerk’s office told us their county was so small there was a drop box within about 15 minutes of any voter.
Because of a deal with the U.S. Postal Service, Salt Lake County only pays for ballots which scan through the sorting facility. Which means ballots that are dropped off save money for taxpayers.
Swenson said in high turnout years like the 2016 election they spend about $100,000 on return postage. She notes even with that cost mail-in elections are cheaper.
Before mail-in elections, Swensen’s office would have to rent about 400 polling stations, train workers, and make sure machines were tested and working for each location. This comes at a time when they are having to update their machines.
“So you can imagine if we had to go spend another $10 million now that we’re having to go replace the voting equipment,” said Swensen. “We won’t have to buy nearly as many voting machines with the vote-by-mail process.”
She notes another benefit of paying for postage is that people tend to send them in faster because they don’t have to wait to buy stamps. When ballots get back earlier it gives employees time to process them.