Why do some absentee voters get free postage?

Some Alameda County residents received mail-in ballots with the postage already paid. Photo: Peter Sussman

Last week, after reading Berkeleyside’s round-up on postage costs for mail-in ballots, we heard from one reader who described himself as “truly baffled.” Officials had said voters in Berkeley had absentee ballots requiring postage up to $1.50 due to multiple inserts for a long list of races and ballot measures.

But not this reader. He wrote: “Not only did we not receive ‘an insert to explain postage rates,’ but we did receive an insert describing the ‘postage-paid return envelope.’ And, indeed, the envelope is stamped ‘No Postage Necessary if Mailed in the United States.’ Proof is attached. Were my wife and I sent the wrong ballots or envelopes?”

Dave Macdonald, Alameda County registrar of voters, explained the situation on Monday afternoon.

Some Alameda County residents don’t have a choice about how they cast their ballots. (Click to view larger.) Photo: Peter Sussman

Macdonald said some county residents, in about 400 precincts, have such small populations that  residents don’t have the option of going to a polling place.


Precincts with 250 voters or fewer fall into this category: “Mandatory Vote by Mail” precincts.

Macdonald said this often is a cause for confusion, especially for residents with polling places nearby, or people who live in areas that have had the political boundaries changed.

Jurisdiction lines get redrawn every 10 years based on information the registrar receives from cities, he said.

One key issue, added Macdonald, is that there are 151 ballot types across the county, and the registrar’s office is tasked with ensuring that everyone receives the correct one. In some areas, two sides of the street may need different ballots, which can add complexity to ballot distribution.

Macdonald said Monday that people who still have to deliver their absentee ballots on Tuesday can do so at any Alameda County polling location from 7 a.m. until polls close at 8 p.m.


If something around town has you mystified, write to Berkeleyside at tips@berkeleyside.com (subject line: “Ask Berkeleyside”) and we’ll do our best to track down an answer.

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 today. And check out our map of all of Berkeley’s polling locations.