Postal Updates

Election season shaping up to be a great postal challenge

Jul 15, 2020, 2 PM
As the United States Postal Service prepares for the upcoming election season, the agency’s inspector general has issued a report warning of problems that could arise processing a large number of absentee ballots.

By Bill McAllister, Washington Correspondent 

Despite all of President Trump’s denouncements of mail-in voting, the 2020 elections are shaping up as the great United States Postal Service challenge.

That’s because state election officials are saying they expect to depend on the Postal Service to carry a record number of absentee ballots in the Nov. 3 elections.

The president, who mailed in his absentee ballot in this year’s Florida primary, has repeatedly warned that voting by mail is unsafe and could lead to massive election fraud.

Both Democratic and Republican election officials have said that just isn’t likely — or accurate. Voting by mail is a safe practice, they say, citing numerous studies.

A July 7 “management alert” by the Postal Service’s inspector general warns, however, that there could be potential problems this fall handling the large number of absentee ballots.

With many voters fearful of the COVID-19 pandemic and the possibility of long election-day lines, both the Postal Service and election officials must do some planning now to avoid problems in the fall elections, the inspector’s report says.

The report was based on complaints from Democrats and Republicans on how mail ballots were handled by the USPS during this year’s April 7 primary election in Wisconsin.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel called the report “a cautionary tale for Wisconsin and other states as election officials brace for record-shattering absentee ballot requests this fall.”

Several things went wrong during the Wisconsin primary.

Three tubs with 749 undelivered voter ballots were discovered at the Milwaukee mail-processing center on election day after the polls had closed.

Many absentee ballots requested on two days in March were not delivered to the voters.

About 160 ballots were erroneously returned to the Fox Point village election office by a letter carrier.

About 390 ballots of the mailed ballots did not receive legible postmarks.

Those may be seen as small problems in an election in which nearly 1 million Wisconsin residents voted by mail. But in a presidential election year, any such problems are certain to take on major significance.

The inspector general found that the Postal Service “generally followed its procedures for processing and delivering ballots” in Wisconsin but cited a need for better communication and coordination between the agency and election officials.

It also warned that there were problems in the “timeliness of ballots being mailed to voters, correcting misdelivery of ballots, an inability to track ballots, and inconsistent postmarking of ballots.”

The inspector general’s report noted that the Postal Service had sent letters to election officials on May 29 outlining the steps they needed to make to ensure that the mail ballots complied with the agency’s mailing rules.

It said that several states do not have registration deadlines that would allow for three days to deliver mail ballots to new voters.

“Additionally we identified 13 other states with deadlines (4-6 days before election) that put ballots at high risk of not being delivered to voters before an election,” the report said.

Postal management agreed to most of the inspector general’s recommendations.

“Management agrees that ballots requested less than 7 days before an election are at high risk of not being completed and returned to election offices in time to be counted,” said David E. Williams, the USPS chief operating officer, and Salvatore N. Vacca, acting Great Lakes Area vice president, in a July 1 response to the report.

“The Postal Service is committed to delivering ballots in a timely manner,” they said, adding, “we cannot guarantee a specific delivery date or alter standard to comport with individual state election law.”

The two executives said “isolated instances” could allow election mail not to be postmarked and urged election officials to place the “intelligent barcode,” which is used to sort and track letters and flats, on their election mail.

“It is our national policy to postmark all ballots,” they said.

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