Sterling Heights to cover November mail-in ballot postage fees

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published June 19, 2020


STERLING HEIGHTS — Sterling Heights voters who choose to use a mail-in ballot this November will save 71 cents in postage after a city budget amendment vote to make it happen.

During the June 2 city budget discussions, Councilman Michael Radtke proposed a budget amendment to make the city pay for the return postage on November absentee ballots. He cited the need to keep social distancing amid the coronavirus crisis while also letting people vote.

“We don’t know if COVID-19 is going to come back,” Radtke said. “I know that in talking with my colleagues and myself, the overriding concern of all the City Council is that people have a right to vote. And we want to make sure that they exercise their rights safely and, hopefully, encourage as many people to vote as possible.”

The budget amendment allots $25,000 for the project. The council voted 5-2 on the measure; councilwomen Barbara Ziarko and Maria Schmidt voted no.

During the meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Liz Sierawski supported the postage measure and noted that the city is only charged for the postage if the ballot is mailed instead of dropped into a bin. She hoped to offset postage costs by encouraging the use of ballot drop-off boxes.

City Clerk Melanie Ryska said the ballot drop-off boxes were already ordered, and they should be installed by July 1 at fire stations Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 5, at a cost of less than $10,000.

The reason the council didn’t apply the paid postage to the August primary ballots was that the envelopes likely already had been printed, and Ryska said it would’ve cost about $3,300 more to reprint the envelopes.

When the amendment’s opponents spoke, Ziarko asked Ryska about recent ballot statistics, and Ryska said the city sent out 11,800 ballots in March and got back around 11,000 of them.

Schmidt expressed her apprehension about spending more money amid uncertain economic times.

“We’re trying to cut our budget instead of increase our budget,” she said. “And in all the 18 years I’ve been on council, I have never had one resident say, ‘I did not vote or I was unable to vote because I could not put postage on my absentee ballot.’”

Ryska told the council that she anticipates sending out 40,000-50,000 absentee ballots for the November election. At a June 16 City Council meeting, the council members unanimously passed the 2020-21 budget, which included the postage spending.

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