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Auditor: Pierce County ballots with insufficient postage will be counted

Post by David Wickert on Oct. 28, 2009 at 11:16 am with 21 Comments »
October 28, 2009 4:36 pm

News that this November’s Pierce County absentee ballot will cost an estimated 61 cents to mail has prompted some to wonder whether ballots with insufficient postage will be delivered and counted.

But a little-known county policy should ensure ballots are returned even if they lack the needed postage, according to

Jan Shabro
Jan Shabro

Auditor Jan Shabro.

Shabro confirmed a county policy of paying the postage for ballots mailed without sufficient postage. She said the office’s contract with the U.S. Postal Service specifies that the ballots will be delivered even without the correct postage, and the county will make up the difference.

“To our knowledge, short a post office error, all ballots are forwarded to us and are counted,” Shabro said.

She said the office does not publicize the policy because it wants people to pay the correct postage.

But in light of recent criticism of her office, Shabro said she thinks “the public should know the facts and not be worried about their ballots being returned for insufficient postage.”

Last week Tacoma City Councilwoman Julie Anderson – who is running for auditor against Shabro – criticized Shabro’s handling of the return postage. Anderson said Shabro should have done more to pay for postage or at least done a better job of informing voters they’d be paying extra.

“Decisions that voters will have to make on this ballot are difficult enough,” Anderson said in a press release. “They shouldn’t have to worry about whether their ballots will be received and votes counted.”

After confirming the county’s policy of paying for postage, Shabro fired back: “I think it’s unfortunate that my opponent has misled the public in an effort to discredit me and win an election. People’s votes are sacred and should not be manipulated.”

Shabro still hopes voters will pay the required postage to mail their ballots and spare her office’s budget.

“I think most people are honest and will either put the correct postage on their return envelopes or will use our express booths, ballot drop boxes or bring their ballots to the polls so they will not have to pay any postage,” she said.

Update: I asked Julie Anderson for a response. She provided this statement:

An Auditor must be consistent, fair and transparent. That means uniform application of postage rules, as well as complete information and clear instructions for voters.

Paid Postage?
Most voters are willing to apply a stamp, to pay for the convenience of mail. In this election, we are asked to provide additional postage to accommodate an unusually heavy and large ballot.

The Auditor could have paid the postage, to avoid confusion, or could have clearly asked voters to apply two stamps.

A dedicated postal account left over from Pat McCarthy, does exist for this purpose. Shabro said that she wants to preserve this fund for future elections.  This raises the question, which elections and which voters will have their postage waived?

Uniform application
“Free postage” precincts receive Business Reply envelopes, which require no postage if mailed in the U.S. Shabro asks us to apply extra postage in this election, but still sends some precincts the Business Reply envelope. This practice was created long ago, when mail-in voting was initiated, to appease voters who live in areas where there are too few voters to warrant a polling station.  If Shabro is desperate for money, why does she continue to give a “free pass” to some precincts?

Clear communication
Shabro has known since her appointment that extra postage would likely be required in the General Election.  There was plenty of time to create a free media campaign to alert voters and provide them with clear instructions.  That did not happen, and now candidates and advocacy groups are scrambling to get the word out.

If Shabro made arrangements with the USPS to guarantee delivery of ballots, why did it take so long for her to tell the public?  People simply want to know that if they make a mistake with their postage, the ballot will still get to where it needs to go. Hearing nothing, many people logically concluded that ballots with insufficient postage would not be delivered.

And in some cases, that appears to be the truth. I received a first-hand report from one carrier who was instructed to not pick up ballots with insufficient postage.

Instructions to voters in this election have been vague and contradictory.  In some places, voters are alerted that “extra postage” is due.  In other places, “an estimated $0.61”.  There are at least four different messages to voters.

As Pierce County’s next Auditor, I will provide clear, advance communication so no one is surprised when election materials arrive.  Pierce County voters have too many important decisions to consider in this election.  Postage shouldn’t be one of their dilemmas.

Leave a comment Comments → 21
  1. ldozy1234 says:

    I’m sorry but Shabro caused her own problems with this by her comments in the TNT article Oct 15th and by again not addressing this issue clearly at the start of the voiced concerns and just waiting till now. It only would have taken a minute to blurb to the news weeks ago about this policy- IMO waiting till now was either inept management or disregard for voters concerns.

    “Last November ‘s ballot also featured two cards. The auditor’s office paid for postage last year because it was the first election featuring ranked choice voting and the office wanted to make it as voting as possible. Shabro said the office won’t pick up the cost this year because of budget cuts and because voters now have experience using RCV.”

  2. The previous press release by the auditor was intended as a slam on RCV – “It costs too much”, etc.

    But it looks like that tactic backfired when it became clear that:
    1) Contrary to the auditor’s proclamations, vote tabulating machines can count Top Two and RCV races that are on the same ballot card,
    2) Contrary to the auditor’s proclamations (again) there is plenty of room to place all the races on a single ballot card,
    3) Contrary to the auditor’s proclamations (yet again) the forced issue of requiring additional postage is neither necessary nor an inhibitor to getting your vote counted.

    Strike three.

  3. ldozy1234 says:

    So true Johnearl, so true!

    Makes you wonder how RCV really works when its not submitted to now 2 auditors trying to make it as problematic as they can by inept management and biased personal programs.

  4. Copper2Steel says:

    Sixty-one cents is a helluva bargain for the convenience of voting from home. Complainers should just drop off their ballots at the numerous drop-off locations around the county.

    It irks me when people complain about such nonsense. The County need not hold your hand when you vote, nor should they wipe away your tears when you cry about it…

  5. summit98446 says:

    This is just sickening. You’d think the least we could count on for the taxes we pay to the County would be free & fair elections.
    Just part of the national Republican strategy to supress the urban, poor & minority vote. I wonder how many cash-strapped unemployed voters won’t bother or can’t afford the postage, & will just recycle their ballots.

    The TNT should ask Shabro which 90+ precincts get their postage paid. Let’s just say, they’re not liberal enclaves. Bet she’ll blame the prior Auditor…….

  6. PolarBear53 says:

    Shouldn’t the cost savings of not purchasing and updating yearly software for the voting machines and man power to run the voting polls should have covered the cost of the mailings. Also the post office provides discounts on volume all the time so could the county not work out a deal? While it was no big deal to me to add to stamps to the ballot my first comment to others is it wasnt fair to the poor or eldery that may not even have a have a few stamps. One could argue Pierce County is adding a fee for voting and thus this could lead to a future suit against the county. Honestly I hope someone does because it isnt right.

  7. kenrabbitmiller says:

    the issue isn’t whether voters are honest enough to use correct postage. the issue is management competence.

    part of serving the public is communicating clearly, and this requires anticipating problems before they occur.

    Ms Shabro only seems capable of reacting to problems – and slowly at that – rather than heading them off. This is risky and expensive. A competent manager would do better. That’s why I support Julie Anderson.

  8. What more do you need to know the envelope is bigger and weighs more than rugular envelopes. Extra postage is clearly noted right on the envelope where the stamp goes!

  9. What more do you need to know the envelope is bigger and weighs more than regular envelopes. Extra postage is clearly noted right on the envelope where the stamp goes!

  10. Yet one more thing for people to whine about. I just sent in my ballot. It clearly said it would require extra postage, so I stuck 2 stamps to it like always. To me this is a nothing price to pay not to have to go to a polling place as I had to do for many years. If someone really finds that too much cost go to one of the drop off boxes. People here just have it too good if this is all they have to cry about.

  11. S_Emerson says:

    Shabro mismanaged the situation with Marianne Lincoln’s candidacy for Bethel School Board, and has yet to come clean about it, so it’s no surprise she’s contradicting herself on her prior claim- that insufficient postage would result in returned envelopes. This, coming from someone who says “I think most people are honest and will either put the correct postage on their return envelopes or will use our express booths…” – as if the wrong amount of postage implies dishonesty.

    And what on earth about anything Julie Anderson has said or done “has misled the public in an effort to discredit [Jan] [to] win an election”? Far as I can see, nothing. Just like the bogus claim on SoundFoundations website, where Jan’s people falsely accuse Anderson of repeatedly attacking her during the Gig Harbor forum. Nonsense. I know two people who attended the forum–one who was voting for Shabro, one for Anderson, and their take of the situation differs completely from what SF website says. Talk about dishonesty.

    Stop the nonsense and own up to your mistakes, Ms. Shabro. That’s what credible people do.

  12. pcinsider1 says:

    Those reading the comments that follow this article need to remember one thing: just because someone makes a statement, it doesn’t make it true. I listened to the County Council meeting last week when Jan Shabro presented her budget and her elections manager (a McCarthy appointee) explained to the Council that the RCV races must be on a separate ballot card because they are read by a different computer program, and that it is the only program certified by the federal government to read RCV ballots. Once another program becomes certified that can read both regular and RCV ballots, the county will purchase the program — assuming they have the funds to do so (and RCV is still being used). I also attended the City Club luncheon last week and thought that Julie Anderson was pretty snide in her remarks — her snotty attitude convinced me that she isn’t the right person for the job.

  13. khaughton says:

    The elections department knew of this problem last year and had plenty of time and space to get all of the races onto one ballot card. For a small amount of money, the vendor could have fixed the problem so that all of our races could be put on one ballot card.

    The elections department wanted to be able to slam RCV for costing too much, so they did not go for the improvement. With the enhanced software, the county would have save $500,000. More than the savings of closing the polls and reducing the size of the voters pamphlet combined.

    Shabro did not make a good faith effort to save money. Anderson’s comments at the City Club were just a reflection of her determination to make a good faith effort to save the county money. Her willingness to put the county ahead of her own political agenda has convinced me, she is the best first choice.

  14. It’s nice that Shabro has changed her tune after seeing the political fallout of the extra postage. The first message was that the county was not going to pay for ballots with insufficient postage. One more reason to vote for Julie Anderson. BTW, if you want to correctly address your ballot, put a line through Shabor’s highlighted name on the first line of the envelope. it has no business being there. See fantastic letter to the editor, on point, of Alison Sonntag in today’s (10/28) Tribune.

  15. summit98446 says:

    With all the DRAMA she’s fostering, Ms. Shabro is giving the Anti-Ref. 71 folks a run for their money.

  16. summit98446 says:

    With all this DRAMA, Ms. Shabro is beginning to give the Anti-Ref. 71 folks a run for their money.

  17. S_Emerson says:

    The Pennisula Gateway endorsed Julie Anderson for Auditor, saying:

    “When former Pierce County Auditor Pat McCarthy won the county executive seat last year, the county council appointed Jan Shabro to fill out her term. As the chief elections officer, the auditor must appear non-partisan.

    Shabro has failed that test, at least in appearance. She’s taken advantage of the position to promote her own candidacy and surrounded the office with partisan individuals.

    Challenger Julie Anderson should have received the county council’s appointment last year because she was then — and remains — the best qualified candidate for the job. It’s an administrative position that fits Anderson’s past experience nicely.

    We endorse Anderson for Pierce County Auditor. “

  18. ClownPosse says:

    Cue the Circus Music !

    Your about to elect a County Auditor !

    “Its not about the people, Its about Me” !

  19. pcinsider1 says:

    To S Emerson: Just how has Shabro “surrounded the office with partisan individuals”? She hired ONE employee, even though the Auditor is allowed two appointive positions( she didn’t hire the second to save money). The one appoinment was a Republican — duh! Is she supposed to hire a stranger? If so, I assume Julie Anderson will hire a Republican that she barely knows to be her appointed Deputy Auditor, and another Republican to be her Assistant, because if she hires a Democrat or friend for either of those positions she would certainly be being “partisan”. In fact, since the current deputy is doing a great job, I think Julie should retain him, even if he is a Republican. What better way to show that she doesn’t play party politics! Lets face it — you have a beef with the Auditor’s office over an unrelated animal issue and are just using the forum for this race to slander the current Auditor, even though she has had nothing to do with your problem. Get over it.

  20. ldozy1234 says:

    Wow pcinsider… feeling a bit abusive?
    So pray tell.. what incident are you talking about? Seems like many on these posts have made significant comments about many issues but its funny you have attacked so personally on this one. Maybe an “pc insider” also involved?
    Pray share… inquiring minds want to know what spurred this attack?

  21. S_Emerson says:

    pcinsider- what I posted, and what you’re commenting on, was a direct quote from the Pennisula Gateway. Perhaps you should let them know how you feel about their opinion.

    As for your reference to the animal issue – you must be inside PC enough to know the egg it left on the faces/reputations of those paid to do bettter. Valor & Teddy are doing fine now, no thanks to Pierce County Animal Control or its overseers.

    As always, I’m open for discussion.

    Stacy Emerson

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