Most people voting in Napa County’s June election will be asked to shell out 50 cents, or potentially more, for a postage stamp — a request that some community groups are protesting.
For all but a few thousand east county residents, the postage won’t be pre-paid for Napa County’s first all-vote-by-mail election. County officials think that free ballot drop-off boxes available in and near population centers will provide a suitable alternative for most voters.
That has brought a protest from the leaders of several local community groups.
Their concern is paying for postage might be a barrier for those who have never mailed in a ballot and might confuse people as to how much postage is needed. That goes against the state’s goal of making voting easier and more accessible for all, they said.
“On behalf of underrepresented voters in our communities, we strongly urge you to reconsider your decision and allow Napa voters to mail in their ballots postage free, to assure we have the highest voter turnout possible,” they wrote to Registrar of Voters John Tuteur.
Among those signing the April 20 letter are Michele Grupe of Cope Family Center, Joelle Gallagher of First 5 Napa County, Robyn Orsini of the League of Women Voters of Napa County, St. Helena Mayor Alan Galbraith and Elba Gonzalez Mares of Community Health Initiative.
But Tuteur has informed the group that, even in the wake of their request, postage-paid envelopes won’t be included with the ballots for the upcoming election for most of the roughly 75,000 voters.
“I told them it’s too late for this election,” Tuteur said on Thursday. “That’s an issue that can be revisited in November. Our envelopes are already printed and ready to go. This election, the horse has left the gate.”
Registered voters could receive their ballots in the mail from May 7 to May 14. Napa County is one of five California counties going to all vote-by-mail ballots for the June 5 election under the state Voter’s Choice Act.
Tuteur wasn’t certain how much postage will cost to return the ballot, but said one stamp could be sufficient. A first-class stamp for one ounce costs 50 cents when bought at the post office, with each additional ounce costing 21 cents.
If someone forgets to put postage on their envelope or can’t afford postage, the Postal Service will still deliver the ballot and the county will pay, Tuteur said. But that’s not the route he wants people to take.
Voters who don’t want to mail back their ballots have options, Tuteur said. The county will have seven outdoor drop boxes open 24-hours-a-day starting 28 days before the election. It will have eight voter centers, three opening on May 26 and five more the Saturday before the election.
“We decided that given that background, that was sufficient,” Tuteur said.
However, 2,500 voters living in more remote areas such as Pope Valley, Wooden Valley, Gordon Valley and Lake Berryessa will receive postage-paid return envelopes. Tuteur said the county won’t have the drop boxes and voter centers in these places.