Additional postage has absentee voters licked

Post office admits ballots should not have been returned to citizens

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Robert Lee, of Coeur d'Alene, delivers his absentee ballot to Carrie Phillips, elections manager for the Kootenai County Elections Office, Monday after it was returned to him because of insufficient postage. Approximately 5,000 ballots have been returned to the office so far.

COEUR d'ALENE - Return to sender.

Absentee ballots across Kootenai County were returned to voters who tried to mail them back to the elections department recently after a postage snafu - even though post office rules regarding mailed votes say they should have been delivered anyway.

Turns out, mailing back the two ballots on weight and size alone should cost 61 cents, not the standard 44 cents.

Post office rules state that votes should be delivered anyway, as a way to ensure they are counted, post office staff said Wednesday.

But voters shouldn't worry, the problem has been fixed, the elections department said Monday. They can drop in their ballots with one stamp and Kootenai County will pay the post office the difference after the election is over.

"It's unfortunate it took this long for us to catch it," said Carrie Phillips, elections supervisor, who noticed the mix up last week when voters began bringing them in by hand after the ballots returned to their homes. "I feel good that we'll get everyone's ballot."

Some voters were surprised when their ballots came back saying they needed an additional 17 pennies.

"I think it could have a really devastating impact on the election, there are a lot of people who don't know," said voter Shirley Thagard, who mailed in her ballot recently only to have it return four days later for insufficient funds.

Phillips said she expects every vote will make its way to the department anyway. Kootenai County has worked out an agreement with the United States Postal Service to pay the office back the difference, so it should go ahead and deliver them. The issue didn't occur during the primary election in May because absentee voters were mailing back one ballot. That cost 44 cents, or one stamp. But this election has two ballots, the second being reserved for the constitutional issues. That bumps the price to 61 cents. The cost is detailed in the instructions that come with the ballot, but many people might not have seen it.

Dave Hoover, postmaster for the Coeur d'Alene post office, said he was unaware so many ballots were coming back. He said the office has an agreement in its operations manual that says ballots should be delivered regardless if postage is covered or not, to ensure the vote is counted. That's a national agreement though the post offices.

Phillips said the elections department will decide after the election what to do in the future regarding postage. It could pay for self-addressed stamped envelopes, but that might not be economical since many people bring them in by hand anyway. She said the county still plans to uphold its agreement with the post office to reimburse the cost.

The last day to request an absentee ballot through the mail is 5 p.m. Wednesday. So far, the department has received around 5,000 of the requested 10,000 ballots.

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