LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Oakland County, Michigan’s second-largest county and a political bellwether, announced Monday that it will use up to $575,000 in federal coronavirus relief aid to provide prepaid postage on absentee ballots in the November presidential election.

The spending was authorized by a unanimous vote last week, with Democrats and Republicans on the county board in support. The county north of Detroit said it is the first one in the state to pay for postage on all ballots returned by mail.

The cost per ballot is $0.65, though voters typically use two stamps and end up paying $1.10, according to county commissioners.

The recommendation for prepaid postage was made by a group created by the board to ensure elections are safe and secure during the COVID-19 pandemic. The council — which includes the county’s elections director, several city clerks and voting-rights advocates — has also urged all residents to vote by mail to avoid potential exposure to the virus at polling places.

As of last Tuesday, 14 days before the Aug. 4 primary, 607,000 absentee ballots had been returned across Michigan — a 182% increase from 215,500 at the same point in 2016. Voters in 2018 authorized people to vote absentee for any reason, and the option has become an emphasis amid the virus outbreak.

Aghogho Edevbie, Michigan director of All Voting is Local, said other local governments should put prepaid return postage on mailed ballots, too. Some cities are doing so.

“Voting by mail should not be a privilege for only those who can afford it, particularly amid a pandemic,” he said.

Democrats in the Republican-led Legislature last week introduced a bill that would require the state to reimburse municipalities for the cost of postage on absentee ballot application return envelopes and ballot return envelopes. The state appeals court recently rejected a lawsuit seeking to compel Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson to direct local clerks to provide paid postage on return envelopes.

A similar suit — funded by Priorities USA, a powerful super PAC in Democratic politics — is pending in the state Court of Claims.

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