Will Postal Service deliver on 2020 election mailings?
By Samantha Lyles
As the COVID-19 pandemic drags on into election season, it’s possible that a record number of Americans – including many senior citizens, veterans and working families – will cast their ballots by mail.
But recent events have cast doubt on whether the United States Postal Service is ready to handle this massive influx of high-priority mail.
Even as the need for speedy, accurate mail service ramps up, news outlets across the country have reported the abrupt disappearance of numerous blue mail-drop boxes from public streets, and the forced removal or shutdown of high-speed mail-sorting machines at post office branches.
Last week, a union leader at the Postal Service told WBTW-TV that some mail deliveries in the Pee Dee and Grand Strand regions have been delayed about two weeks. Ronnie Gee, president of the American Postal Workers Union, Local 2408 in Florence, told WBTW that he began to notice the changes at the post office in Darlington. “Mail coming in late, abundance of mail coming in, then I noticed there was a delay,” Gee said.
U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, testifying before the U.S. Senate Aug. 21, said he was “unaware” of some recent changes by his agency until these service-hampering actions sparked a public uproar. DeJoy also told senators he has no plans to restore the missing mailboxes or restart the high-speed sorting machines that have been shut down or removed.
“They are not needed,” DeJoy said, though he could not offer any details on how he planned to ensure on-time election mail delivery.
After his selection in May by the postal board of governors (a body of presidential appointees), DeJoy instituted a number of cost-cutting initiatives that sparked an outcry over delivery delays, sorting machinery taken offline or removed from branches, and cuts to postal workers’ overtime pay.
In a statement issued Aug. 18, DeJoy promised to postpone any further changes until after the election to avoid any perception of interference or tampering.
“The United States Postal Service will play a critical role this year in delivering election mail for millions of voters across the country. There has been a lot of discussion recently about whether the Postal Service is ready, willing and able to meet this challenge,” said DeJoy’s statement, which offered several promises regarding service changes.
“I want to assure all Americans of the following: retail hours at Post Offices will not change. Mail processing equipment and blue collection boxes will remain where they are. No mail processing facilities will be closed. And we reassert that overtime has, and will continue to be, approved as needed. In addition, effective Oct. 1, we will engage standby resources in all areas of our operations, including transportation, to satisfy any unforeseen demand,” the statement said.
DeJoy, a supporter and campaign donor of President Trump, testified to Congress that he believes Americans should have the right to vote by mail in the general election – a prospect the president has criticized as “ballot harvesting.”
President Trump cast his own vote-by-mail ballot last week in Florida.
On the same day as the senate hearing, attorneys general from Pennsylvania, California, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Washington sued DeJoy for allegedly violating rules that require USPS to “maintain an efficient system of collection, sorting, and delivery of the mail nationwide.”
When the News & Press contacted local, state and regional USPS officials for comment, we received another written statement assuring the public that the agency is prepared for this oncoming challenge.
“The Postal Service is committed to delivering Election Mail in a timely manner. We employ a robust and proven process to ensure proper handling of all Election Mail, including ballots. This includes close coordination and partnerships with election officials at the local and state levels. As we anticipate that many voters may choose to use the mail to participate in the upcoming elections due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are conducting and will continue to proactively conduct outreach with state and local election officials and secretaries of state so that they can make informed decisions and educate the public about what they can expect when using the mail to vote,” the statement read.
“Customers who opt to vote through the U.S. Mail must understand their local jurisdiction’s requirements for timely submission of absentee ballots, including postmarking requirements. Voters must use First-Class Mail or an expedited level of service to return their completed ballots.
“In order to allow sufficient time for voters to receive, complete and return ballots via the mail, and to facilitate timely receipt of completed ballots by election officials, the Postal Service strongly recommends that jurisdictions immediately communicate and advise voters to request ballots at the earliest point allowable but no later than 15 days prior to the election date.
“The Postal Service recommends that domestic, non-military voters mail their ballots at least one week prior to their state’s due date to allow for timely receipt by election officials. The Postal Service also recommends that voters contact local election officials for information about deadlines.”
The statement provided this link for those interested in reading more about voting by mail: https://about.usps.com/newsroom/national-releases/2020/0529-usps-provides-recommendations-for-successful-2020-election-mail-season.pdf