Fact check: Postal Service will deliver ballots with insufficient or unpaid postage
The claim: Mail-in ballots require two stamps
As confusion and misinformation build surrounding voting this fall, posts on Facebook make a claim about how to mail ballots.
"2 stamps needed for mail-in ballots!" reads a post from the page Blue Dot in a Red Sea. "Make sure this info gets passed on! #Vote."
Susan Terhune, the user behind the page, told USA TODAY she is based in Oklahoma, "where the ballot comes with a return envelope that states to provide your own postage." Based on weight, the ballot should have two stamps, she said.
Terhune wrote she was confused as to whether or not postage was actually required.
"The USPS has stated that they will still deliver the votes even without proper postage," she wrote. "So then why do the envelopes in our state claim they are required? Who knows."
Rates vary by state, but election officials are required to inform voters of correct postage
Seventeen states – Arizona, California, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin – mandate prepaid postage for ballots, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Others, such as New Jersey, leave it up to the discretion of county clerks.
Still others – such as Pennsylvania – will provide prepaid ballot return envelopes only for the upcoming election, a one-time change due to the expected uptick in vote-by-mail caused by the coronavirus pandemic, according to NBC Philadelphia.
Martha Johnson, a spokesperson for the U.S. Postal Service, told USA TODAY that election officials are required to inform voters of the proper amount of postage for their ballots.
"Unless the state or local election official provides a prepaid return envelope, voters must ensure that the appropriate postage is affixed to their return ballot envelope," Johnson wrote. "To help voters, the Postal Service requires election officials to inform voters of the amount of First-Class postage required to return their ballots."
Similarly, the 2020 Election and Political Mail Guide says election officials must consult with the Postal Service to determine proper postage for their ballots, then "indicate in a prominent location the proper amount of First-Class Mail postage that must be applied to balloting materials."
In past elections, that amount has varied from standard postage.
In 2016, San Diego County (California) told its voters that their ballots required 67 cents in postage – 20 cents above the then-standard 47 cents, according to Snopes.
"Not only is proper postage required by federal law, but it also helps ensure timely processing and delivery by the Postal Service," Johnson wrote.
Ballots with 'insufficient or unpaid postage' will be delivered, and charged to the local Board of Elections
Though postage is required, ballots without proper postage – or any postage at all – should still be delivered on time so votes can be counted.
"If a return ballot is nevertheless entered into the mailstream with insufficient or unpaid postage, it is the Postal Service’s policy not to delay the delivery of completed absentee or vote-by-mail ballots," Johnson wrote. "In cases where a ballot enters the mailstream without the proper amount of postage, the Postal Service will collect postage from the appropriate Board of Elections."
A set of guidelines for state and local elections published in January confirms that "shortpaid and unpaid absentee balloting materials will not be returned to the voter for additional postage" and that the Postal Service "will not delay delivery of balloting materials."
Johnson said the Postal Service is "proactively working with state and local election officials on mailing requirements, including postage payment."
No changes for the upcoming election, Postmaster 'committed' to duties
Though some individual states altered their mail-in voting policies for the upcoming election, Johnson told USA TODAY the U.S. Postal Service has not made any such changes.
“There are currently no pending changes to the rates and classes of mail impacting ballots," she wrote. "The baseless assertion that we intend to raise prices in advance of the upcoming Presidential election in order to restrict voting by mail is wholly without merit, and frivolous."
Democrats and Republicans have expressed concerns about vote-by-mail and the role of the Postal Service before the election, according to The Hill.
Johnson wrote that the Postal Service and its leader, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, are "fully committed to fulfilling our role in the electoral process."
"If public policy makers choose to utilize the mail as a part of their election system, we will do everything we can to deliver Election Mail in a timely manner consistent with our operational standards," she wrote.
Our rating: Partly false
Based on our research, the claims in this post are PARTLY FALSE because the required postage rate for mail-in ballots varies by state and municipality. It is false to make a blanket statement that two stamps are required for each ballot. Some ballots include prepaid postage and don't require stamps at all. It is true some states require postage, and in those cases, rules dictate that the amount must be clearly indicated to the voter on the ballot. Even if the postage is underpaid or not paid at all, the Postal Service will deliver ballots and charge local election officials with the cost.
Our fact-check sources:
- National Conference of State Legislatures, July 10, VOPP: Table 12: States With Postage-Paid Election Mail
- NBC Philadelphia, Aug. 1, Pennsylvania to Pay for Mail-In Ballot Postage in November Election
- Emailed Statement from Martha Johnson, Spokesperson for the U.S. Postal Service, Aug. 10
- U.S. Postal Service, July 30, 2020, Election and Political Mail Guide
- Snopes, Jan. 29, 2019, Do Mail-In Ballots Require Extra Postage?
- U.S. Postal Service, January 2020, State and Local Election Mail ” User's Guide
- The Hill, Aug. 4, Trump, Democrats both hold fears about US Postal Service, mail-in ballots
Thank you for supporting our journalism. You can subscribe to our print edition, ad-free app or electronic newspaper replica here.
Our fact check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.
This fact check is available at IFCN’s 2020 US Elections FactChat #Chatbot on WhatsApp. Click here, for more.