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VERIFY: Your mail-in ballot will be sent regardless if it has a stamp or not

The U.S. Postal Service encourages you to add the appropriate postage on your presidential ballot, but they will not return ballots that lack it.

There's been a lot of conversation about mail-in voting recently. It has gotten increased attention as the coronavirus pandemic has made the method of participating in elections more appealing to some people.

While the widespread use of it has been debated back and forth by politicians, misinformation about the practice has spread. And with misinformation also comes a great deal of confusion.

One such example of confusion is over the use of stamps on mail-in ballots. Some photos show that mail-in envelopes may require extra postage, while some worry about being able to afford postage at all.

So what's the deal? How much in postage stamps do you need to pay for a mail-in ballot?

THE QUESTION 

Will my vote be counted if I don’t have the right postage on the return envelope?

THE ANSWER 

Yes. For federal elections of the U.S. president, your ballot will be delivered even without a stamp or if it has too little postage.

WHAT WE FOUND 

In an email to VERIFY, the Postal Service first warns: “Federal law requires appropriate postage to be affixed to all mail pieces entering into the U.S. Postal Service mail stream, and we expect our customers to comply with this requirement. To help voters, the Postal Service’s regulations require election officials to inform voters of the amount of first-class postage required to return their ballots.”

But then it adds: “If a ballot is nevertheless returned with short-paid or unpaid postage, it is the Postal Service’s policy not to delay the delivery of completed absentee or vote-by-mail ballots.”

Mail-in ballots are treated differently by states and even jurisdictions across the U.S., says Sarah Courtney of the League of Women Voters. Some voters receive postage-paid envelopes for returning their ballots, she said. Some jurisdictions get around the stamp issue by providing drop-off/return boxes, she added.

So how does the Postal Service, which lost $8.8 billion in 2019, deal with the loss of revenue from those who don’t affix stamps to the envelopes when returning ballots?

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“In cases where a ballot enters the mail stream without the proper amount of postage, the Postal Service will collect postage from the appropriate board of elections,” the email says.

A bulletin on the USPS's website confirms this information. Near the bottom of the page it says, "Short-paid and unpaid absentee balloting materials must never be returned to the voter for additional postage. Postage is collected from the election office upon delivery or at a later date. Do not delay delivery of balloting materials."

Credit: AP
In this May 28, 2020, photo, Dave Turnier processes mail-in ballots at at the Chester County Voter Services office in West Chester, Pa., prior to the primary election. Tuesday's primary elections in seven states are both significant elections and big tests of campaigning during the age of coronavirus. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

If you decide to skip the stamps on your mail-in ballot but feel a little uneasy about it, you may be able to track your envelope.

“Many states and D.C. have online ballot tracking systems so that voters can trace their mail-in ballot, and check online that it has been received,” said Jeanette Senecal, senior director of mission impact for the League of Women Voters.

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