Fact check: U.S. Postal Service will deliver mail ballots even with insufficient postage

A claim on social media warns voters that two stamps are needed for mail ballots, misleadingly implying that those with insufficient postage would not be delivered to election officials in the upcoming presidential vote. This is inaccurate.

Mail-in ballots for the upcoming congressional election in Orange County wait to be inspected by election workers at the Orange County Registrar of Voters in Santa Ana, California, U.S. October 30, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake

A post shared over 13,500 times on Facebook is visible here . Other posts with the claim are visible here and here .

It is true that in most states voters must pay the appropriate postage on their return ballot envelope. The number of stamps, and therefore the cost, depends where the voter lives.

For example, local media reported that across Illinois, except in Chicago where ballot return envelopes have prepaid postage, the average cost is about $1.40 per ballot ( here ). In Tennessee ( here ) officials have stated that “a first class stamp is all that is required to mail a ballot back” (which costs $0.55, ).

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) lists here 17 states that cover the cost of postage. Other states that have also announced prepaid postage for the election include Pennsylvania ( here ), Massachusetts ( here ) and South Carolina ( here ).

In statements to the media, the U.S Postal Service (USPS) explained that while residents in states where prepaid postage is not provided should buy their own stamps, USPS cannot reject votes without postage.

A USPS spokeswoman told Reuters that “proper postage is required by federal law” and that election officials are meant to inform voters of “the amount of first-class postage required to return their ballots.” USPS is, however, instructed to deliver these ballots even if they lack appropriate postage. The spokeswoman confirmed that if a ballot is mailed “with insufficient or unpaid postage, it is the Postal Service’s policy not to delay the delivery of completed absentee or vote-by-mail ballots.”

USPS also said it was “proactively working with state and local election officials” on mailing requirements including postage. “In cases where a ballot enters the mail-stream without the proper amount of postage, the Postal Service will collect postage from the appropriate Board of Elections,” it told Reuters via email.

The NCSL confirms this policy, stating that USPS “will deliver a ballot envelope even if it does not have sufficient postage” (see ). The NCSL explains that the Postal Service will “typically” bill the local election office for postage, which could represent a “significant expense”.

Organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union have objected to voters having to buy postage stamps in some states, considering it to be a “poll tax” and potential barrier to low income voters. See more here and here .

Reuters Fact Check recently debunked other misleading claims on voting by mail here and here .


Misleading. While Americans should pay for postage where required, it is USPS policy to deliver return ballots regardless of insufficient or unpaid postage.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work  here  .