Bay Area voters who send their ballots by mail can relax. Correct postage or not, their votes will get counted.
There's even more concern in Contra Costa, Napa and Santa Clara counties, three of the state's counties where ballots are so long or bulky that a single 42-cent stamp isn't enough postage.
"It costs 59 cents to mail our ballots back this year," said Matt Morales, a spokesman for the Santa Clara County elections office. But he said virtually all the ballots received so far have proper postage, adding that "a single-stamp ballot is more the exception than the rule."
But while local elections officials don't advertise it, Santa Clara, Napa, Contra Costa and most other counties in the state have arrangements with the Postal Service to deliver ballots and other election-related mail - even if it is short on stamps.
"We have an agreement with the post office that they'll deliver the election mail, but we keep urging people to use the proper postage," Morales said. "We don't want to subsidize the entire ballot."
Santa Clara County typically spends about $2,000 a year to cover ballots with insufficient postage, he added.
That arrangement means the Postal Service moves not-quite-paid-for ballots directly to the county, rather than returning them to the voter for more stamps, which could mean that some of the ballots wouldn't be returned in time to be counted.
"The way it's supposed to work, there shouldn't be any delay with the ballots, even if they don't have sufficient postage," said John Tuteur, Napa County's registrar of voters.
It's national policy to get ballots to their mailing address, regardless of postage, said Gus Ruiz, a spokesman for the Postal Service's Sacramento district.
Postage costs most often go up when a lengthy ballot requires an additional ballot card, boosting the weight. In Napa, however, the weight meets the one-stamp limit but the oversized envelope used for the election materials raises the cost, Tuteur said.
Nearly half the voters on Nov. 4 are expected to cast ballots by mail, and the percentage is going up in almost every election. If voters don't attach the proper postage, vote-by-mail can become an increasingly expensive proposition for counties.
Some counties, including San Francisco, have decided to pay the return postage for all ballots.
"It's a good thing we pay," said John Arntz, the city's election chief, joking that "as long as some of our ballots are, people could be paying 50 bucks in postage."