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I live in King County in Washington state, where my son (who is temporarily away at college in another state) is registered to vote in the 2020 election. My address is his permanent residence. Despite my prompting earlier this year for him to update his mailing address, he failed to do so, so I now have his ballot.

I have seen differing accounts online regarding the legality of the USPS forwarding mail. Many news reports specifically say that the USPS won't forward election-related mail, but I cannot find an official citation of the relevant law.

Further, Washington has long had 100% vote-by-mail, where ballots are sent to all registered voters, so it's not like a typical absentee ballot request in other states. The Washington Secretary of State website FAQ indicates forwarding mail is a county-level decision:

Some counties may allow ballots to be forwarded. However, the best thing to do is contact your county elections department and ask for a temporary change in your mailing address.

I looked up WAC 434-250-070 which confuses me as it seems to provide for mail to be forwarded, with the voter placed inactive after the election:

Forwarding ballots.

  • (1) The county auditor must utilize postal service endorsements that allow ballots to be forwarded, allow the county auditor to receive the updated address information for forwarded ballots, and allow the return of ballots not capable of being forwarded. A voter may only vote a ballot specific to the address where he or she is currently registered to vote, rather than a ballot specific to a new address.
  • (2) If a ballot is returned or forwarded, the county auditor must, following certification of the election, either:
    • (a) Transfer the voter registration and send the voter an acknowledgment notice, if the updated address is within the county; or
    • (b) Place the voter on inactive status and send the voter a confirmation notice to all known addresses, if no updated address information was received or the updated address is outside the county.

Since this will be my son's first presidential election it's important for me to give him this opportunity to vote. I can obviously enclose his ballot in another envelope, pay the correct postage, and forward it myself, but if it's illegal for the USPS to forward it, I'm concerned whether I could do so either. I would prefer to simply change the address on the envelope I've received -- if I can be certain it will actually be forwarded.

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There does not appear to be any Washington or Federal law to prohibits putting mail in an envelope addressed to the intended recipient, including a ballot. King County ballots appear to comply with the required postal service endorsement for forwarding: what this means, if the ballot is returned to the post office with a new address that the address change will be reported back to the auditor and in the case that the ballot is sent out of state, the person goes to the inactive voter list. He then has to respond, under Washington law with a change of address (back to Washington), responding to a confirmation mail (if he gets such a mail), or...

Votes or attempts to vote in a primary, special election, or general election. If the inactive voter fails to provide such a notice or take such an action within that period, the auditor shall cancel the person's voter registration.

but given the all-mail nature of voting in the state, that means he has to specifically request a ballot.

As for certainty, a greater degree of certainty of timely receipt can be achieved by using an overnight, tracked delivery method. The law does not provide certainty that mail sent will be delivered, just a reasonable belief.

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    What about the preferred forwarding method proposed by the OP? "I would prefer to simply change the address on the envelope I've received" Putting it in a new envelope seems distinct from actually forwarding the original mailpiece (as changing the address on the envelope would do).
    – Ryan M
    Oct 17 '20 at 0:28
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    That would almost certainly trigger the change to inactive voter status. There is no statutory evidence that ballots cannot be forwarded by USPS in general, but perhaps there's something specific about California, which would not apply in Washington. It seems to be illegal in Oregon.
    – user6726
    Oct 17 '20 at 1:27
  • In my readings I saw an article referencing 46 states, but it was behind a paywall so I'm not sure... it's possibly forwarding is legal in only 4 states. Oct 17 '20 at 5:31
  • but given the all-mail nature of voting in the state, that means he has to specifically request a ballot. I am unclear on what you mean, you do not have to request a ballot in WA if you are registered. You can if it's lost or spoiled. Do you mean that if they are disenrolled, they have to reregister? Oct 28 '20 at 18:50

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