How much to mail an absentee ballot? Take your pick

The mail-in 2012 ballot for Berkeleyans involves putting four separate pieces into the envelope. Photo: Creative Commons

Update, Oct. 18, 2016: We got the official word from the Registrar of Voters office: “You can use 3 Forever stamps to return 4 Voted ballot cards in the mail. Just to let you know we have 24 hour drop boxes within Alameda County that are collected daily. Please check our website at for the list of drop boxes and locations.”

Update, Oct. 17, 2016: It costs up to $1.36 to send a vote-by mail ballot (formerly known as absentee ballot) in Berkeley in 2016, according to local neighbors who have done the legwork. Another source said it costs $1.10. Last time around, rates also varied. (We have updated this post because we noticed people searching for this information and Google was sending them to this article.)

The information that follows is from the 2012 election.

Original story, Oct. 17, 2012: How much will it cost to mail an absentee ballot? It depends who you ask.

Last week, a reader pointed out to Berkeleyside that the mail-in absentee ballot for the November 2012 election requires extra postage, but that the exact amount needed isn’t specified.

“I just filled out my ballot and, when I slipped it all back into the huge envelope and began to mail it, I realized the postage was not prepaid, nor did it say how much it should cost. It only says ‘Additional Postage Required’ and the envelope looks oversized and is fairly heavy for a letter. You might think it’s easy enough to go to the post office and find out, or I could weigh it and then look up the rates online. But these things are a major hassle.”

At Tuesday night’s council meeting, city officials and staff offered some insights to help voters know what to do with their absentee ballots. In Berkeley, the full package involves inserting four separate pieces into the envelope.

City Manager Christine Daniel said the vote-by-mail ballot requires $1.50 in postage, according to county Registrar of Voters Dave Macdonald. The city has posted more detailed information on its website about what voters need to know.

Mayor Tom Bates said he asked his wife, Senator Loni Hancock, to ask Secretary of State Debra Bowen about the mail-in ballots, and Bowen said a regular first-class stamp would do the trick.

“Some people just put a 45-cent stamp on it, and that’s sufficient to make it happen. People should not be deterred unnecessarily,” said Bates. “If you mail it with a [45-cent] stamp, it will be received and it will be counted.”

City Manager Daniel said the city is taking the more conservative stance of recommending that voters use the $1.50 postage rate recommended by the county registrar.

Councilwoman Susan Wengraf said she, too, had been concerned about the issue, especially when she went to weigh her ballot and found that it required just $1.05. One of her constituents told her that a scale at another local post office put the postage rate at $1.70.

“I did call Dave Macdonald,” she said, adding that he told her that, “regardless of what was on the ballot, it will be delivered.”

Voters who prefer to drop off their ballots rather than pay for postage can do so prior to election day  at two locations. One is the city clerk’s office, 2180 Milvia St., Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; the office will be closed on two Fridays prior to the election, Oct. 26 and Nov. 2, for reduced-service days. Voters also can leave ballots at the office of the registrar of voters in Oakland, at 1225 Fallon St.

On election day, Nov. 6, voters can drop off ballots at any polling location until 8 p.m.

Oct. 22 is the last day to register to vote. Confirm voter registration status online by checking the Alameda County Registrar of Voters “My Voter Profile” web page. California residents can register to vote online. Find personalized election information here, via

Update, 12:30 p.m. Guy Ashley, Alameda County spokesman, said Wednesday morning that every vote-by-mail ballot package sent out to county voters includes an insert to explain postage rates. In Berkeley, and other communities with four ballot cards, the official rate is $1.50.

Visit Berkeleyside’s Voter’s Edge Berkeley for complete coverage and tracking of the city’s 10 ballot measures. Visit Berkeleyside’s Election 2012 section to see all our coverage in the run-up to Nov. 6.

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  • Bryan Garcia

    I’m amazed that the voter is required to pay the postage on these. That just seems wrong, in my opinion.

  • Bill

    The ballot insert says “Voters in the City of Berkeley will receive four (4) cards” and the postage is $1.50 – and don’t forget to sign the OUTSIDE of your envelope or the ballot in invalid!!.

  • Lhasa7

    Paying for postage is a minor issue compared with the routine 30+ minute waits for counter service at the chronically understaffed Berkeley Main Post Office.

  • Completely_Serious and a scale will tell you exactly how much to pay.  All you Berkeley potheads still have your dial-a-gram, right?

  • The Sharkey

    Are they understaffed, or just terrible employees?

    Every time I’ve had window business there  my transaction has taken three or four times as long as it should, because of lazy, slow-as-molasses employees who clearly aren’t worried about trying to be efficient.

  • berkopinionator

    You can also drop off the completed ballot at your local voting location.  Call the Registrar of Voters to confirm the directions about signatures or your ballot will be invalid.  If you don’t vote, or if your ballot is invalid because you don’t sign the absentee envelope, you may be deleted from the vote by mail system.

  • Lhasa7

    Having suffered the place for 7 years (much of that time without a car and no reasonable alternative), I have found that the place is clearly mismanaged (in that chronic, severe problems for customers are just ignored). The staff varies from lovely, helpful and competent (Victoria) to totally unprofessional and even sociopathic (Phyllis, who luckily seems to be gone now). I do find that the number of window clerks is generally the same as I have found in a small town post office in another state, so understaffing is an issue (though bringing in hapless incompetents seems to be a recent trend). Ultimately, it is a management/postal culture issue, since the problems are so glaring that any sensible leader could address them within a matter of days. At least one recent postmaster reportedly installed a lavish personal office suite in preference to handling customer issues.

  • Lhasa7

    I was there this morning and the automated postal machine was, as it often is, out of service (and the signature 30-minute wait for window service was in effect). I guess one could glue coins to the envelope and hope for the best?

    The lobby scale at that post office has been broken for many months. I pointed this out to one of the incompetent managers months ago, but she did not seem to grasp that functioning equipment was necessary (the automated postal machine will only weigh packages when it can dispense postage, which it often can’t).

  • David D.

    The fact that this is an issue is a testament to how ridiculously long our ballot is for this election. So far I’ve spent over 4 hours working through it, and I still have several state propositions to review before I’m finally finished. If this is democracy in action, no wonder so few people vote!

  • PragmaticProgressive

    it’s like a backdoor poll tax.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    and that way you can still get the “I voted” sticker. :-)

  • The Sharkey

    We really need to get rid of the voter initiative process in California.
    It’s bankrupting the State with impractical feel-good ballot box legislation.

  • anne

    Make that any post office! They’ve gotten rid of all the stamp machines. You have to get in line with everyone else to buy a stamp. Mind-boggling.

  • berkopinionator

    It really is a poll tax on the disabled.  Especially bad for disabled people living on social security etc.. that may choose to eat instead of vote. We should offer disabled voters in Berkeley a free ballot pick-up and delivery service!

  • David Weisz

    Not to mention that if we are doing elected officials’ work, we could at least deduct our postage from their wages, right?

  • Anna

    The city clerk’s office at 2180 Milvia St. is on my way to work, so that’s how I’m submitting my ballot!  Yeah I seem to remember postage was free for voting.

  • Anna

    If you are going to the Berkeley Main Post Office anyway, maybe consider dropping it off at the city clerk’s office as mentioned in this post?

  • Completely_Serious

    Places to buy stamps that aren’t the post office:  Costco, UPS Store, Fed Ex/Kinko’s; Office Depot;; Wells Fargo ATMs used to sell stamps; Safeway;independent “contract stations” like the one at the market at Claremont and Forest in Rockridge.  Mail order from the Post Office. 

    Anyway, back in 2008:

    Thu, Oct 23, 2008 — 5:30 PM
    Postage for Absentee Ballots
    A spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service says California voters
    needn’t worry about whether they’ve put enough stamps on their absentee
    ballots. The post office will deliver the vote even if there is postage

    Dunno it that is still true or not.

  • Voter

    If you want to drive to downtown Oakland, there is a drop box outside of the Registrar of Voters at 1225 Fallon.  It is outside (no need to go in building)

  • emraguso

    Just announced by the ROV: The Alameda County Registrar of Voters has set up three new specially designed mailboxes in Oakland to accommodate voters who wish to drop off their Vote-By-Mail ballots, without having to pay postage.  The three new mailboxes will be available to receive Vote-By-Mail ballots right up until the close of the polls at 8 p.m. on Election Day, Tuesday, November 6.

    The three new mailboxes are located:
    1.       In the lobby of the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse, 1225 Fallon Street, Oakland
    2.       Outside the Courthouse on the northeast corner of 12th and Oak Streets, Oakland
    3.       Outside the Alameda County Administration building at 1221 Oak Street, Oakland.

  • Alina

    This is strange.  I finally filled out my ballot and was ready to look for stamps but then noticed it clearly says “no postage necessary if mailed in the unites states”.  Cool.  I’ll take it.  But anyone know why this is?… Seems odd that other folks had to pay to mail theirs, but mine is free.  

  • emraguso

    That is strange! Maybe best to drop it off just in case? 

  • Guest

    These should be postage-paid envelopes. It’s bad enough we have to wade thru all this cr*p and vote, at least provide the dang stamp!

  • Tizzielish

    from what public funds should this free postage be paid? The U.S. Post Office is now a private entity: do we have a right to demand the post office provide this service, which costs them money, for free? If not the post office, who should fund it? federal voting officials, state voting funds, local voting funds?

    I’m serious. Postage has to cover the costs and someone has to pay it. Who do you propose pays this cost?

    The public has to pay to provide in-person polling. I agree that people should not have to pay postage to vote but where does the funding come from? It has to come from somewhere and the listing post office does not seem like the least bit fair place to look for the money.

  • Scot

    Come down from the mountain. The post office is a government entity and always has been. As for what public funds should pay for this? How ’bout any of the ones responsible for the theft of over a third of my pay check every 2 weeks.

  • Umesh Patil

    This is one of most frustrating things of life in America….why can’t Registrar of Voters write in the postage stamp square how much postage is required precisely? They are the ones who are putting all these papers in the envelope and they know which of these are to be returned. They why not print then and there itself at the source agency?

    Well, if America wanted to make voting easy; we would not be in this ditch at all…..To expect Government simply finance the ballots is too much to expect in a country where ‘poll tax’ is invisibly getting applied to many. People opt for mail in vote because they do not want to wait in the queue and miss the work. But to get precise postage they will have to go to post office now!

    Reading other comments, it seems each county is following different rules. I got my ballot from Santa Clara County office and I am always required to pay the postage. There is no ballot in this county paid by Registrar of Voters.

    And that is another thing wrong in this country – every state, every county applies different rules. At least with regards to basic things like Elections; there need to be uniform set of rules. But that seems impossible to ask in this country.

  • SacramentoMarko

    Why is mine addressed to be returned to Mexico? This can’t be right can it?

  • David M

    Congress and Senate members get franking privilege for all official mail already. Why can’t they extend this to the voting that gets them there in the first place? Oh, right… the key demographics for vote-by-mail tend to be more heavily Dems.

  • Marilyn

    Just went to post office, The correct postage is $1.36, not $1.35 as stated in this article. Hmm right wing conspiracy?

  • emraguso

    Thanks Marilyn — Can’t say why this seems to vary so much but better safe than sorry! I’ve updated this as the upper limit in this story and my other story that referenced this. Thanks for the information.