Pierce County auditor candidate Julie Anderson says Auditor Jan Shabro could have done more to pay postage for this year’s absentee ballots, or at least could have done a better job of telling voters their ballot will need extra postage.
As I reported last week, the November ballot will require an estimated 61 cents of postage, thanks to the extra ballot card Shabro says is needed to accommodate ranked choice voting. Last year the office paid the postage on absentee ballots. This year, it’s not.
Shabro said last week the office can’t afford postage this year because of budget cuts. And she said voters now have experience using ranked choice voting, so the paid postage is less important.
Anderson, a Tacoma City Council member, disagrees. In a press release today, she said the auditor’s office has a dedicated postal fund on deposit with the U.S. Postal Service that could have been used to pay ballot postage this year. The release quotes former auditor and current County Executive Pat McCarthy, who said the fund contains as much as $100,000. The money was set aside for postage last year but wasn’t used, McCarthy said.
Shabro said the money already is spoken for. She said the office needed it to mail voters pamphlets, ballots and other materials.
“Every penny in that account needs to be there just for us to do our regular business,” she said.
Shabro said the postal account currently has about $88,000 remaining. She estimated paying for ballot postage this year would cost about $85,000. But that would leave nothing left over for upcoming elections, including three special elections next year.
“It would be very difficult to come up with money to keep replenishing that account,” Shabro said. “It’s a good financial decision we made very consciously to stretch our dollars as far as we could.”
Anderson also faults Shabro for not doing enough to inform the public about the extra postage. She cited what she said is inconsistent language in election materials. For example, she said the ballot return envelope states that “additional postage is required.” The stamp placement box says “requires additional first class postage.” Page 2 of the voters pamphlet states that “an estimated 61 cents” is needed.
“Everyone understands one stamp, two stamps,” Anderson said. “But not everyone will understand Shabro’s vague and contradictory instructions about the amount of extra postage needed.”
Shabro said the office has alerted voters that extra postage is needed in many places.
“We’ve got it worded many ways in many places to get as many peoples’ attention as possible,” Shabro said.
You can read Anderson’s full press release below.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friends for Julie Anderson
Ballot postage paranoia may have been preventable
TACOMA, Wash. – Oct. 19, 2009 – As Pierce County voters apply an estimated 61 cents in postage to return their ballots this year, caution is required.
Concerned, Pierce County Auditor candidate Julie Anderson recently asked County Executive Pat McCarthy why and how she managed to pay postage in prior elections.
In 2004 and 2008, then-Auditor McCarthy decided to pay the cost of additional postage for returned ballots by using business reply envelopes to guarantee delivery.
McCarthy said a dedicated postal fund on deposit with the United States Postal Service – containing as much as $100,000 – should still exist as carryover from the November 2008 election.
Conversely, in a News Tribune story on Oct. 17, current Auditor Jan Shabro said her “office won’t pick up the cost [of postage] this year because of budget cuts.”
Anderson said voter outreach and education about the postage issue should have been the primary concern of the Auditor. “This problem should have been anticipated and was easily avoidable,” she said. “If the fund was not used to pay for voters’ return postage, the instructions to them should have been crystal clear: two stamps.”
Anderson contends that in an anticipated low turnout election, $75,000 from the dedicated postal fund should be sufficient to purchase business reply envelopes and eliminate voter confusion as to how much postage is needed.
“Apparently, the cost of democracy is 17 cents,” Anderson said. “Everyone understands one stamp, two stamps. But not everyone will understand Shabro’s vague and contradictory instructions about the amount of extra postage needed.”
“Decisions that voters will have to make on this ballot are difficult enough,” Anderson said. “They shouldn’t have to worry about whether their ballots will be received and votes counted.”
Candidates from races in Tacoma and surrounding cities plan to gather on 38th St. & Pine St. in Tacoma at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 20, to advertise that ballot returns require two stamps. A press event in front of the Pierce County Elections Center will follow at 4 p.m.
Many phrases were used to describe the extra postage requirement in the election materials sent to voters:
- The ballot return envelope and informational insert state that “additional postage is required.”
- The stamp placement box includes the phrase, “requires additional first class postage.”
- Page two of the Voters’ Pamphlet indicates an “estimated 61 cents” is needed to return a completed absentee ballot.
- Page four of the Voter’s Pamphlet states “61 cents is an estimated minimum amount” of the postage required.
- Page 18 defines proper postage as “approximately 61 cents.”
Page 13, “Five Simple Steps to Make Sure Your Vote Counts,” has no mention of the special postage requirements.