(*This story was updated at 4:10 p.m., on 7/31/20 with additional information.)
Pennsylvania will pay the postage fee to return every mail-in or absentee ballot it sends to voters for November’s presidential election.
Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said the change would make voting “accessible, safe and easy” in a statement released Friday by her office.
The development was first reported by the Associated Press.
HARRISBURG, Pa. (@AP) _ Pennsylvania will foot the cost of postage for voters to mail in ballots in November's general election, officials said Friday, a move Gov. Tom Wolf has made a priority as the coronavirus pandemic fueled high interest in voting by mail.
— Marc Levy (@timelywriter) July 31, 2020
The administration plans to use federal COVID-19 stimulus dollars to pay for the stamps, according to the AP.
The department was already allocated $14 million to cover election costs during the pandemic, agency spokesperson Wanda Murren told the Capital-Star.
At 55 cents an envelope, the price tag for the election could run into hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in a high turnout election.
For example, 1.5 million Pennsylvanians voted by mail in the June primary. Paying for each of their ballots would have cost $825,000.
Murren said the department estimated the measure would cost, at most, $3 million —assuming that 6 million voters, or about 75 percent of state electorate, returned a mail-in ballot.
Widespread access to mail-in ballots became law in Pennsylvania less than a year ago in a compromise between Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the GOP-controlled General Assembly.
The policy change immediately benefited hundreds of thousands of voters amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Negotiations to further amend Pennsylvania’s election laws between Wolf and legislative leaders are ongoing.
Election reform advocates, such as Ray Murphy, state coordinator for Keystone Votes, said the postage move should encourage even more voters to take advantage of mail-in voting and “hopefully further help to reduce long lines and crowded spaces during in-person voting on election day.”
According to a AP story earlier this month, the U.S. Postal Service already has a policy of delivering election mail with or without proper postage. Any unpaid costs are collected from the appropriate Board of Election.
In a statement, Jason Gottesman, spokesperson for House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, said Wolf was “carelessly doling out taxpayer dollars under the false pretense of solving a phantom problem.”
The Wolf administration is working with individual counties to identify the easiest way to implement the policy, their release added.
Seventeen states already pay the postage for mail-in ballots, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
If you are a registered voter, you can apply for a mail-in ballot online here.