By Timmer McCroskey
Be honest, when was the last time you went to the post office? For me, it’s been at least six months since I physically went into any post office. With the ability to buy postage labels online and drop off packages in blue boxes located throughout my town, I rarely need to go into a physical location. Next question, do you have stamps on hand? I do, but only because I try to send my Grandma a card every month. For many people, especially in rural Wyoming, the post office isn’t a frequent stop on the errand list and not everybody has a reason (or funds) to purchase stamps. However, to mail in an absentee ballot in Wyoming, you are required to place the correct amount of postage on the envelope. Wyoming is one of 33 states that does not pay for the return postage of an absentee ballot.
Wyoming is also a state with no excuse absentee voting, meaning that a voter can request an absentee ballot for any reason. During the primary earlier this year 45.1% of the votes cast were from absentee ballots. During the primary, absentee ballot use was up in all 23 counties, most likely due to public health concerns caused by COVID-19. If someone worries about going to a polling location (I would because there is no mask requirement) they can simply request an absentee ballot. The only difference is an absentee ballot ostensibly costs money: a form of a poll tax that has long been held unconstitutional. While the monetary cost for the stamp is low, rural voters may have to drive long distances to buy postage and voters with valid health concerns may not feel comfortable physically going into the post office. While you can order stamps online, at the official USPS store you must order $11 worth and pay $1.50 in shipping and handling. Again, a small monetary amount, but any cost to voting is direct violation of the Constitution and should not be a part of the 21st century voting landscape.
Luckily, the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia agrees with me and earlier in September filed an appeal in a federal lawsuit on behalf of Black Voters Matter, challenging the requirement of stamps on absentee ballots claiming it is a poll tax. The federal judge dismissed the first suit saying that if voters were unable to afford stamps, they were able to vote in person. But during the pandemic, that may be asking elderly and high-risk groups to risk their lives in order to vote or to pay in order to safely participate in democracy.
The post office does have a policy stating they will deliver any ballot that enters the mail stream without sufficient postage. However, someone will have to pay for the missing stamp as it is required by federal law. The USPS could bill the State Election Board based on the number of missing stamps, which is why this policy is not well advertised. For states like Georgia, this might mean the State Election Board may have to pay millions of dollars. Unlike Georgia, Wyoming only has a population of 445,025 eligible voters. In past general elections, only 49.7% of voting age population casted a vote. Even if half of that population choose to vote by mail, it would only roughly be 110,000 ballots. If each ballot costs 50 cents, it would only cost the state $56,000 to provide postage for all absentee ballots. That’s not including a bulk business mailer discount or other discounts available to the state. In terms of providing a free and fair election, it is a relatively low cost.
Wyoming excels in a lot of areas of voting, from same day registration to early voting. This year, the state spent part of the money received from the CARES Act to fund Let’s Vote WYO, a campaign to push voter participation in the state. Money exists in the budget to advertise voter participation, but there also should be room to make sure no one is forced to pay to cast their vote. While it is too late this year to change the requirements for absentee ballots, Wyoming’s legacy of a leader in voting rights should be continued and no one in the Equality State should have to pay to vote.