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Wednesday, Mar 04, 2015

Big ballots could cost county

Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 06:16 PM

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Starting around Oct. 7, thousands of Hernando County residents will receive absentee ballots and, after completing them, affix a stamp and send them back to the supervisor of elections office.

But before sending off that ballot, residents should be sure they have enough postage attached.

Because of a preponderance of proposed state constitutional amendments, this year's ballot is a 14-inch legal-sized form with two pages. Instead of the typical 45 cents postage, it will cost 65 cents.

Nowhere on the ballot or in the mailing will it say to affix extra postage, so it will be up to residents.

Elizabeth Townsend, director of operations at the elections office, said the post office will deliver all absentee ballots to her office, even without sufficient postage.

The elections office will pay the difference, she said.

Townsend said this is the first time she can recall a ballot being so large that it required extra postage.

In all, there are 11 constitutional amendments on the ballot, two referendums and 14 or more local, state and federal races, depending on where voters live.

Townsend said the elections office is prevented by Florida statute to put extra information on the ballot, and that includes notifications about postage.

Instead, Townsend said she is getting the word out via public-service advertisements, the elections website and by telephone for those who call requesting ballots.

So far, 16,806 ballot requests have been made, she said.

Blaise Ingoglia, chairman of the Hernando County Republican Executive Committee, said the additional postage could cost the supervisor of elections office thousands of dollars.

But County Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes — a member of the canvassing board involved with counting votes — said the county "is caught between a rock and a hard place."

If the absentee ballots arrive short of postage, "we're just going to have to eat it," he said.

After learning of the postage problem, Dukes said he asked supervisor of elections officials to work with the county's community relations coordinator to alert residents through the government's website.

Dukes said the state has strict rules about what can go into ballot packets. For example, Hernando County once sought to include "I voted" stickers with the ballot and was told not to do so.

Hernando County, he said, is no different than other counties this year with larger ballots and more postage due.

Counties required to include multiple language ballots will end up paying even more, he said.

"I think we should make the people backing the amendments pay for it, but that's not going to happen," he said.

There were 20,213 absentee ballots distributed in the 2008 presidential election, according to the elections office. Assuming some 20,000 ballots go out this year, and all voters fail to affix an extra 20 cents to the envelope, the elections office would have to pay $4,000.

But Townsend said most people take extra caution when returning the ballots and either take it to the post office to make sure there is sufficient postage or return it personally to the elections office.

"In talking to voters, many will go to the post office and make sure they have enough postage to make sure it gets here," she said.

Townsend said there is wording on the return envelope reminding voters to affix proper postage, even though it doesn't give the exact amount.

Ingoglia said the law regarding absentee ballots may need revision.

"If this is Florida statute, maybe the state should look into changing the law that allows us to give notice on the ballot on the correct postage needed," Ingoglia said. (352) 544-5290

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