There’s an old hobo legend that goes: a hobo can walk into a post office with anything in the shape of an envelope and mail it without a stamp. The truth is, it doesn’t work that way. Mail in the U.S. requires postage, but there are some interesting exceptions.
What happens when you send mail without a stamp
Ever forget to include a stamp on a piece of mail you’ve sent out? Then you’ve probably rediscovered it in your mailbox after the post office sent it back.
If not, the intended recipient may have had to pay postage, according to USPS protocol. If the recipient refuses to pay the postage, your mail could become an unclaimed letter held by the post office for a time, before it is finally destroyed or used to fund the USPS. Already have a stamp? Find out what happens to mail with no return address.
How to send mail without a stamp: Be a member of Congress
One privilege of being a member of Congress that you probably haven’t heard about is “franking.” Franking allows certain government officials to send mail without postage stamps for official business mail. Franking privilege dates back to 1600 in British Parliament, but in the U.S. government officials could sign their name in the upper right-hand corner until the 1860s and that would suffice for a stamp. Later congressional members started using rubber stamps of their signature rather than hand-sign all official business letters. Get a lot of political mail, flyers, and advertisements? Here’s how to stop getting junk mail.
Mailing a ballot
A 2018 Miami Herald story reported that in an effort to make voting easier for younger voters, they could send in absentee ballots without stamps because finding stamps proved such a hassle for young voters that it prevented them from voting. Younger voters quoted in the story said printing ballots was difficult because they didn’t own printers and many didn’t know how or where to get stamps to mail the ballot if they printed one out. Good news for those ill-equipped to locate a post office on Google Maps, the postal service will deliver ballots without postage. The government will pay the postage for absentee ballots. Now that you know all there is to know about mailing items without stamps, learn even more secrets your mail carrier isn’t telling you.