Report from the Statehouse, VLA Public Hearing March 9

LD 509 (An Act To Facilitate the Timely Return of Requested Absentee Ballots)

By Helen Hanlon

The public hearing opened around 10:00 am on Monday. The morning was filled with the “Emergency Keno” proposal to halt the addition of 300 Keno outlets without having a Public Hearing. The session then segued into craft beer issues, “growler” refills, and wine/spirit tastings. Finally, at 2:30pm, came the bill I had been waiting for: LD 509 — the Absentee Postage Bill — was presented with an impassioned delivery from Rep. Schneck about this “simple” measure of using business-rate return mail envelopes to assist citizens returning absentee ballots.

Two questions from the Committee members centered on cost. That’s it. No other discussion or interchange among members, so it was difficult to assess whether they were for it or against it.

Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn testified Neither-for-nor-Against]. She stated that she meets with postal authorities prior to elections regarding postage rates and displayed a template used to determine postage. She explained that business reply envelopes can’t be used because postal regulations require a permit holder for that service, and the mailing must go to and from a single point. Pre-stamping envelopes with no control on the local level would likely lead to waste. If the Secretary of State’s office provided the anticipated number of postage-paid envelopes for absentee ballots, some sort of audit would be required. Calculating approximately 70,000 absentee ballots, she estimates the cost at about $33,400 per general election with locals needing to pick up their own tab for special elections, etc.

In all, there were seven pieces of testimony, including a Neither-for-nor Against statement from LWVME’s Ann Luther. Written testimony was submitted by local officials objecting to the option allowing the state to collect reimbursement of postage from the towns. You can read all the testimony here.

 

Interesting note: In the 2014 General Election, (not including military and overseas ballots which are already required to be postage free) 137,790 total absentee ballots were issued; 132,700 were returned; 5,170 or 3.7% were not returned. In 2012, 175,196 absentee ballots were issued; 169,881 were returned; 5,376 or 3.1% were not returned.

Long day! Now, I’m going to have a glass of whine….

 

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