Prepaid postage is back on Peoria County mail-in ballots
The Peoria County Election Commission voted to return prepaid postage to mail-in ballots Thursday.
The decision follows a vote about a year and a half ago to remove the postage. The decision drew allegations of voter disenfranchisementand suppression from organizations like the Peoria NAACP, Peoria Proud and Change Peoria.
Election Board Chair Jim Manning says, from his perspective, the measure was purely cost-saving. He says the postage cost the county between $25,000 and $30,000 annually.
“We didn't feel right to put that burden on the county to the tune of $30,000, which is going to continue to grow with each election cycle, right?” Manning said. “Because more and more people are exercising that right to vote by mail.”
Manning says, at Thursday’s meeting, the board had reached a deadline. If the vendor that prints the ballots for the county was going to include postage on them, they needed to know now.
“So Commissioner [Matt] Bartolo made the motion to reinstate the prepaid postage on the return ballots,” Manning said. “Which then prompted some discussion and a vote.”
The motion narrowly passed, 3-2. Manning voted no and Bartolo voted yes.
Bartolo also says he voted no on the original measure removing the postage. He believes cost savings for the county can be found elsewhere in the election commission, especially if trends of more people using vote-by-mail or early voting continue.
“That then means less poll workers, less polling locations in the future, potentially. And so I think really the cost savings is on election day itself,” he said. “The more people that vote in advance of Election Day, the more savings we have on election day.”
Both Bartolo and Manning categorically deny any sort of intentional effort at voter suppression from the board. Bartolo says he sees how the lack of postage could be perceived as a barrier, while Manning calls accusations of suppression “a bit disingenuous.”
“I'm just saying that I don't know how anybody in their right mind could say that we were trying to suppress the vote by requiring voters to incur the cost of their postage to mail it back,” Manning said. “If you don't want to do that, then just again, go down to your local church or school or your polling place down the street from me and vote in person.”
Manning says his “no” vote was “entirely financial.” He said the existing vote-by-mail program and ballot drop boxes also exist for those who live with disabilities or are experiencing poverty.
“To suggest that well, you know, you have these people that are elderly or disabled or due to their financial situation, they can't afford a stamp. Well, how do they pay their utility bills? How do they pay other bills?” Manning asked. “They put stamps on things to send payment back to pay their phone bill and other expenses?”
When asked about fringe cases, perhaps people pay bills online or don’t use the mail for any other process but still want to vote, Manning said “nobody is deprived of that opportunity.” He also points out: most counties in Illinois don’t provide prepaid postage on their mail-in ballots.
Still, advocates like Ryan Hidden, executive director of Change Peoria don’t see any advantage in removing a service that was previously offered.
“I think it’s a county by county decision and I live in Peoria County,” Hidden said. “You know, it’s something that they have offered and, you know, once you offer something like that, people use it and enjoy it. If you take it away, it’s going to hurt some people who relied on that to vote for several years.”
Change Peoria submitted a letter to the commission outlining their concerns with the postage removal. You can read that letter, signed by a number of community organizations, here.
Mail-in ballots will be sent out, with postage, ahead of the next major election on Tuesday, Nov. 5th, 2024.