County Studies Option of Prepaid Postage for Mail-in Ballots

With more voters casting ballots by mail, Santa Clara County may start offering prepaid postage as soon as this fall.

According to the Registrar of Voters (ROV), which will present its findings on the subject to the Board of Supervisors today, the county could foot the cost of return postage and then collect reimbursement from cities and special districts. The discussion comes as part of a broader review of the ROV after slow returns in last year's election put the agency under the microscope.

About 70 percent of voters in the South Bay vote by mail. Some precincts in the county only offer mail-in ballots, though districts limited to just vote-by-mail elections already get prepaid postage. With voter turnout in the last election at its lowest in decades, election officials suggest the convenience of all-mail elections could encourage more people to vote. The tricky part is figuring out how to pay for it.

County attorneys are studying the possibility of raising allowing cities to raise candidate filing fees to cover the cost of postage.

By law, the county has to absorb costs for federal, state and county contests. So the cost recovery would have to come from cities and special districts. With only a few school and special district elections on the ballot this November, the cost of postage will amount to about $31,000, all of which could be reimbursed from local jurisdictions.

In the June 2016, primary, however, the only local election on the ballot will be for the city of San Jose, which means the county would have to absorb the cost of postage for the other contests. Assuming a two-card ballot with 240,000 returned by mail, the county estimates a prepaid postage cost of $167,000 for next year's primary with only $25,000 eligible for reimbursement from San Jose.

Still, the county would have to budget up-front postage costs from the general fund, the ROV report notes. The requested reimbursement rate for local jurisdictions would be about one cent per registered voter for each contest on the ballot.

To gauge support for the proposal, the county surveyed 15 local jurisdictions, a dozen of which responded favorably, for the most part. Only Palo Alto and Los Altos brought up concerns about whether the investment would even boost voter turnout.

More from the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors agenda for June 23, 2015:

WHAT: Board of Supervisors meets
WHEN: 9am Tuesday
WHERE: County Government Center, 70 W. Hedding St., San Jose
INFO: Clerk of the Board, 408.299.5001

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. Every Monday and Every Tuesday I get a bunch of junk mail in my mail box, always the same ads from Safeway, some closet company, pizza parlors, etc. I dump all this junk into my recycle bin. The USPS gives that junk mail a preferential low rate. So, why can’t the ROV obtain that same preferential low postage rate for something as important as voting? If that cannot happen for whatever reason, at least charge the junk mailers the full first class rate, which might completely eliminate the USPS operating deficit. Side benefits could be the elimination of much of this junk mail, for which I am sure most of us would be grateful, and it would save many trees.

  2. Good idea long over due. Money well spent for great cause.
    We will instantly improve citizens’ participation in this important civic duty.

  3. > Good idea long over due. Money well spent for great cause.
    We will instantly improve citizens’ participation in this important civic duty.

    Good idea . . . if you’re a Democrat.

    But too much “citizen participation” is not necessarily a good thing,

    if those participating are “low information voters” who make their public policy decisions based on whether or not they have to get off their sofa’s, miss their day time soap opera, or buy a postage stamp we’re all better off they just stay home, tune out, and let the rest of us handle things.

  4. If we only printed the ballots in English the savings in printing would would pay for the postage.
    Send me 20 copies please, I have a lot of dead people living here!

  5. at least make it so that one stamp covers the postage. Right now, the bulky cardboard ballots always require some stupid amount of stamps. I like the idea of raising the price of junk mail.

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