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California Legislature California politics

No stamp, no problem: Lawmaker says postage-paid ballots should be available to all Californians

 (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

California voters would no longer have to scrounge around in search of a stamp to mail in their ballot under new legislation introduced this week at the state Capitol.

“We want to make sure voters don’t have any barriers,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego), the bill’s author.

Ballot envelopes sent by elections officials would be marked as “prepaid postage” and the postage costs would be paid for by individual counties. A key question will be the cost for mailing in as many as 10 million ballots statewide. Not all ballots will weigh the same, given the numerous city and county measures that also are considered in regularly scheduled elections.

The initial language of Assembly Bill 216 doesn’t offer specifics on reimbursing counties, though Gonzalez Fletcher said she expects the proposal’s ultimate cost could be under $2 million, if the law also makes clear that voters can still place a stamp on their ballot.

Regardless, postage fees are likely to be deemed a mandated cost that state government must cover.

Gonzalez Fletcher said the advent of email and online bill-paying services have meant that fewer voters have stamps readily available, with busy working Californians scrambling just to find the time to exercise their right to vote.

"It starts to feel like a very small poll tax," she said.

The proposal is another example of the steady evolution of elections conducted less by the ballot box than the mailbox in California, as more than half of all registered voters now permanently receive absentee ballots. A number of the state’s most populous counties are expected to soon embrace a sweeping new law shifting elections away from neighborhood polling places and toward a substantial number of votes being cast by mail.

“This is welcome legislation,” said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation. “Requiring voters to pay for ballot postage sends a message that the government is putting up obstacles to make it more difficult to vote.”

In many cases, ballots placed in the mail without proper postage are already being delivered by the U.S. Postal Service. Some counties in California have offered prepaid postage in the past, but the vast majority have not.

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