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Ballots delayed in Juneau
ABSENTEES: Post office held them for a day because of lack of postage.

Anchorage Daily News

(Published: October 30, 2004)

Nearly 2,500 absentee ballots were held up a day at a Juneau post office because the state Division of Elections failed to allow for enough postage, postal officials said Friday.

The delay came at a critical time as Tuesday's election approaches.

A record number of voters sought absentee ballots this year, and many still were waiting as of this week. A lost day may make the difference for a voter counting on the absentee ballot. Ballots must be postmarked for return mail no later than Tuesday.

Efforts to reach elections officials in Juneau for comment on this story Friday were unsuccessful.

Postal officials said they expected the ballots to be ready to leave Juneau on Friday evening, a day later than planned. They are destined for voters in Alaska and all around the country, Juneau Postmaster Kent Eriksen said.

Workers brought in two batches of ballots around 5:15 p.m. Thursday to Juneau's Mendenhall Post Office, about a half-mile from the airport, where all bulk mail is processed, Eriksen said.

But the elections division underestimated how many ballots there were and how much the mailing would cost, he said. Postal clerk John Zahasky said he couldn't contact anyone at the division after hours, so he and his supervisor agreed to hold the ballots to make sure the division would cover the higher cost.

Under the division's bulk rate permit, it gets discounted postage. It must bring the bulk mailings, with the imprint where the stamp normally goes, to the post office with forms stating how many mail pieces and the cost. That information is checked by Zahasky to determine how much to charge to the elections account.

The division underestimated the ballots by 1,041 and the price by $910.37, Zahasky said. The actual cost was $1,827.97. The post office allows a margin of error of 1 percent, but this was beyond that, he said.

"They were way off," said Kathy Phillips, marketing manager for the U.S. Postal Service in Alaska.

"I am not willing to pay that out of my own pocket," Zahasky said.

Absentee ballots must be postmarked by Tuesday, Election Day. They have 10 days to arrive at the Division of Elections from within the United States and 15 days if they are from overseas.

Elections officials have been advising voters worried about their ballots to request a fax ballot, which can be done through the division Web site. There's been a turnaround of 36 hours or longer for those ballots to be sent to voters once the request is in hand.

If people vote by fax and then receive a by-mail absentee ballot, they should destroy it, the Elections Division says. Voting twice is a felony crime.

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