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States should foot the bill for mail-in ballot postage

Of all the irrational debates Americans could be having about the upcoming November elections, one reported earlier this month tops them all.

Of course, many voters will be leery of casting ballots at polling places. That has renewed the debate over absentee ballots cast by mail.

Indeed, there is genuine reason to have some concern about mail-in ballots. Will everyone desiring to vote that way have access to the process? Will scammers attempt to use fraudulent ballots?

But the answer to one question some are asking has an obvious answer. The issue — not one, really — is whether low-income voters can afford the postage needed to return mail-in ballots.

“As more states embrace mail-in voting amid the coronavirus pandemic, the often overlooked detail of postage has emerged as a partisan dividing line,” The Associated Press reports.

Some critics argue the cost of a postage stamp to return a mail-in ballot amounts to an illegal poll tax. Others worry that some voters, their finances already strained by the epidemic, may decide they can’t afford to buy a stamp.

How absurd can we be in our partisanship?

There is a simple, logical, reasonable, bipartisan solution to all this: Mail-in ballots should be returnable with postage pre-paid by state governments.

What would that cost? Well, a first-class stamp costs 55 cents (for now). About 63 million Americans voted in the 2016 presidential election. So the math is post-paid ballots would cost about $35 million if every voter used the mail-in process. More voters? Higher postage costs if ballots weigh more than an ounce? Double the estimate, then, to $70 million.

During a time when federal response to an epidemic is being measured in trillions of dollars, $70 million seems like an insignificant amount.

Congress ought to both mandate post-paid voting and appropriate money to cover expense to states.

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