VOPP: Table 12: States With Postage-Paid Election Mail

4/21/2020

This table is part of NCSL’s Voting Outside the Polling Place report.

In most cases, it is up to the voter to pay for postage to return a mail ballot envelope to the election official. Some see this as a barrier to returning a ballot, or as a type of poll tax. One solution is to have ballot drop boxes widely available, and in states that hold all-mail ballot elections, returning by drop box or in person is the most common return method. Another option is for election officials to pre-pay postage for voters to return their ballots.

For military and overseas voters, federal law specifies that ballots can be returned to election officials using a free postage-paid symbol when mailed from a U.S. Post Office, Military Postal Service Agency (APO/FPO) or U.S. Diplomatic Pouch Mail. However, if voters return the ballot through a foreign mail system or via common carrier (such as FedEx, DHL or UPS), they must pay the rate for that service themselves.

For non-military voters returning a mail ballot, the following 16 states have statutes requiring local election officials to provide return postage for mailed ballots. This is typically a business-reply mailing, so that local officials only pay for return postage for the ballots that are actually returned via the U.S. Postal Service.

Note: New Jersey leaves it up to the discretion of county clerks to provide a postage-paid envelope (N.J.S.A. 19:63-12).

State Details

Arizona

A.R.S. § 16-542
“The county recorder or other officer in charge of elections shall mail the early ballot and the envelope for its return postage prepaid to the address provided by the requesting elector…”

California

West's Ann. Cal. Elect. Code § 3010
“(a) The elections official shall deliver all of the following to each qualified applicant: (2) All supplies necessary for the use and return of the ballot, including an identification envelope with prepaid postage for the return of the vote by mail ballot.”

Delaware

15 Del. Code § 5504
“(c) Postage for all mailings made pursuant to this subsection shall be prepaid by the Department.”

Hawaii

HRS § 11-182
“The mailed distribution and return of absentee ballots shall be at no cost to the voter. The State and counties shall share in the cost of all postage associated with the distribution and return of absentee.”

Idaho

I.C. § 34-308
“(2) 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.”

Iowa

I.C.A. § 53.8
“The absentee ballot and affidavit envelope shall be enclosed in or with an unsealed return envelope marked postage paid which bears the same serial number as the affidavit envelope.”

Kansas

K.S.A. 25-433
“The county election officer shall provide for the payment of postage for the return of ballot envelopes.”

Minnesota

M.S.A. § 203B.07
“Ballot return envelopes, with return postage provided, must be preaddressed to the auditor or clerk and the voter may return the ballot by mail or in person to the office of the auditor or clerk…”

Missouri

V.A.M.S. 115.285
“Mailing envelopes for use in returning ballots shall be printed with business reply permits so that any ballot returned by mail does not require postage. All fees and costs for establishing and maintaining the business reply and postage-free mail for all ballots cast shall be paid by the secretary of state through state appropriations.”

Nevada

Nev. Rev. Stat. 293.323
“3. The return envelope sent pursuant to subsection 1 must include postage prepaid by first-class mail if the absent voter is within the boundaries of the United States, its territories or possessions or on a military base.”

New Mexico

N. M. Stat. Ann. § 1-6-8
“A. The secretary of state shall prescribe the form of, procure and distribute to each county clerk a supply of: (1) official inner envelopes for use in sealing the completed mailed ballot; (2) official mailing envelopes for use in returning the official inner envelope to the county clerk, which shall be postage -paid; provided that only the official mailing envelope for absentee ballots in a political party primary shall contain a designation of party affiliation…”

Oregon

SB 861 in 2019
“(1) Except as provided in subsection (2) of this section, for each election held in this state, electors shall be provided with a return identification envelope that may be returned by business reply mail. The state shall bear the cost of complying with this subsection.”

Rhode Island

R.I. Gen. Laws § 17-20-10         
“(d)(1) Upon the ballots becoming available, the secretary of state shall immediately issue and mail, by first-class mail, postage prepaid, a mail ballot to each eligible voter who has been certified. With respect to voters who have applied for these mail ballots under the provisions of § 17-20-2(1), the secretary of state shall include with the mail ballots a stamped, return envelope addressed to the board of elections.”

Washington

West's RCWA 29A.40.091

“(4)….Return envelopes for all election ballots must include prepaid postage.”

West Virginia

W. Va. Code, § 3-3-5
“(e)(1) Within one day after the official designated to supervise and conduct absentee voting has both the completed application and the ballot, the official shall mail to the voter at the address given on the application the following items as required and as prescribed by the Secretary of State: ….(C) One postage paid envelope, unsealed, designated “Absent Voter's Ballot Envelope No. 2…”

Wisconsin

W.S.A. 6.87
“(3)(a)…. If the ballot is mailed, and the ballot qualifies for mailing free of postage under federal free postage laws, the clerk shall affix the appropriate legend required by U.S. postal regulations. Otherwise, the clerk shall pay the postage required for return when the ballot is mailed from within the United States. If the ballot is not mailed by the absentee elector from within the United States, the absentee elector shall provide return postage.”