Pennsylvania will cover postage for mail-in ballot returns

Pennsylvania voters won’t have to pay for a stamp when they return their mail-in ballots in the November general election, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar announced Friday.

The Pennsylvania Department of State will provide the funding for postage-paid ballot return envelopes, she said.

“Our goal is to make voting as accessible, safe, and easy for eligible voters as possible,” Boockvar said in a release. “Mail-in or absentee voting with prepaid postage means Pennsylvanians can vote from the comfort of their own home, without having to make a trip to the post office to buy a stamp, during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Luzerne County’s Election Board Vice Chairman Peter Ouellette applauded the announcement Friday, noting the board had included that request in its recently approved list of suggested improvements. The board is in the process of formatting its recommendations on official letterhead so they can be sent to state officials and legislators, he said.

“The current postage requirement, no matter how minimal, constitute a poll tax,” the board wrote.

Voters must apply for mail-in ballots, with no excuse or reason required. After verifying voter eligibility, counties will use the state funding to include a postage-paid ballot return envelope with the ballot mailed to voters.

County Manager C. David Pedri was among those quoted in Boockvar’s release.

“It’s our job as public servants to make the voting process as seamless as possible for our citizens. This decision by Governor (Tom) Wolf and the Department of State is the right move because it makes it even easier for all Pennsylvanians to make sure their voices are heard,” Pedri said.

The Department of State is working with counties to identify the easiest manner of implementing pre-paid postage for November’s returned ballots, with options including reimbursed metered or Business Reply Mail postage, Boockvar said.

Nearly 1.5 million state residents voted by mail in the June 2 primary, including approximately 40,300 in Luzerne County.

Approximately 36,400 county mail-in voters already checked a box on their primary applications indicating they want to receive a mail-in ballot again for the Nov. 3 general, and the election bureau has said additional requests are already coming in.

Polling places will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 3 for voters preferring to cast their ballots in person.

The county Election Board also suggested other legislative changes that could make mail-in voting more efficient in November:

• Changing the deadlines for mail-in ballot applications and returns to allow more time for county election bureaus to process and fill requests.

• Allowing returned mail-in ballots to be counted earlier, which would speed up the tally of election results and reduce costs and manpower. Confidentiality requirements and penalties would be necessary to prevent any party or person from revealing information before the polls close on Election Day, the board said.

• Deploying permanent, dedicated ballot drop-off boxes in prominent places throughout the state — a practice implemented in some other states.

• Permitting mail-in ballots to be returned to polling places during voting hours on Election Day.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.

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