Mon. Mar 27th, 2023

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BOISE, Idaho — Polls are open for early and absentee voting in Idaho. Folks looking to send their absentee ballot back want to know who pays postage on ballots sent back through the mail.
Billy writes to The 208, “The mail-in ballots came with a disclaimer that the county would not pay for any postage or postage due on received ballots”
Elvin says, “Do I need postage on an absentee ballot if I use a drop box and how much postage is required if mailed?”
Pandemic-era elections saw temporary but significant changes on things like absentee voting, but many functions are now back to normal. So for the current lay of the land, we checked in with Chief Deputy Secretary of State Chad Houck.
 “Well, you absolutely need to at least look at the envelope and pay very close attention. And the reason I say that is, there’s no universal blanket law that says the counties have to either pay or not pay that return postage,” Houck said. “It is not required for the county to send those out postage prepaid. So the most common answer is yes, you should expect to for the opportunity to mail your ballot back in as an absentee voter, pay that postage yourself.”
So, two examples for you. In Ada County, voters will get this handy leaflet with their ballot. If you look at the top right of the info page, in bold you will read there is required postage to send the absentee ballot back. Voters may remember, Ada County postage was covered during COVID elections where voting by mail was the only option.
But what about on the other side of the county line?
Joe Decker is the spokesman for Canyon County Elections and says the included postage helps promote voter engagement.
“We’ve always prepared for return postage on absentee ballots. And that’s the same for this election year. So, no, if you live in Canyon County, you request an absentee ballot, you do not need to put a stamp on your return,” Decker said.  
But wait, isn’t there a portion of Idaho law that says election clerks should include postage for absentee ballots?
Idaho Code 34-308 says in part, “the clerk shall issue a ballot, by mail, to every registered voter in a mail ballot precinct and shall affix postage to the return envelope sufficient to return the ballot.”
Houck says the key phrase there is, in a “mail ballot precinct”; that does not apply to most Idaho areas.
“Idaho Code 30 4308 talks about mail ballot precincts and mail ballot precincts are a very specific, very niche carve out in Idaho code that was designed to address very small precincts in rural areas,” Houck said. “It says that if you have a precinct that has less than 140 voters in the previous general election cycle, that the county commissioners can then ascribe that as a mail ballot precinct. That means that the only way that that voting is going to happen is by a mail ballot. But it’s because there’s a very small rural group of individuals where putting a polling location central to that just isn’t economically or reasonably feasible. That’s the only place that it applies in that case, because it’s not the voters decision to get that absentee ballot, but rather a decision made for them by the commissioners.” 
So, bottom line when sending back your ballot:
“Use your common sense. Take a look at the envelope, see what’s required. And if you don’t understand what you’re looking at there, ask the Postal Service when you go to drop it off,” Houck said.
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