mail, ballot
Lawmakers are concerned about how much time it will take for ballots to make their way through the Postal Service. Photo credit: Donald Lee Pardue / Flickr

Protecting Out Vote 2020

November is less than four months away, and it is expected that a record number of voters will mail in their ballots. Whether the US Postal Service, strapped for cash, can deliver those ballots in time to be counted is less than certain.

Inscribed in granite above the James A. Farley Post Office in New York City is the unofficial motto of the USPS: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” Budget shortfalls, however, may prove to be more troublesome than inclement weather as fewer Americans use the Postal Service and recent attacks levied by the White House suggest that it is doubtful a bail-out is imminent for the hard-pressed agency. 

Such doubts only increased after Louis DeJoy, the new postmaster general, laid out plans to delay mail service in order to cut costs.

House Democrats sent a letter to DeJoy on Monday demanding answers about the reported delay. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, wrote that such a delay “would impair the ability of ballots to be received and counted in a timely manner — an unacceptable outcome for a free and fair election.”

Lawmakers on the Senate Committee for Rules and Administration questioned election officials and voting experts on Wednesday about how much time it takes for ballots to make their way through the Postal Service. In St. Louis County, MO, Republican Director of Elections Rick Stream said that mail delivery times “are less than optimal, for sure.” 

Stream added that his office has offered — without success — to send a staff member to the local postal office to help process ballots.

mail, ballot

Voter mailing a ballot to King County Elections office in Renton, WA, in 2008. Photo credit: Keith Rowley / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Sen. Angus King (I-ME) said during the hearing that USPS is facing “imminent insolvency” and Congress must act now to ensure all absentee ballots are counted.

“We can’t just skirt around the issue of the importance of the post office because the president doesn’t like their package rates,” King said.

Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, argued, in a letter to the Senate Rules Committee, that automatically mailing absentee ballots and pre-paid postage must be part of the solution. Gupta cited administrative failures in several states’ primary elections, including swing states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

“One county official called the primary ‘chaos,’ and another said there was ‘no way humanly possible’ to keep up with the flood of absentee ballot requests,” Gupta wrote.

Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee For Civil Rights Under Law, told the Senate Rules Committee that the Postal Service needs roughly $89 billion because it will play a “central role” in the 2020 election. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), the committee’s ranking member, noted that funding for the USPS was included in the House-passed HEROES Act.

A recent report by the R Street Institute, a conservative think tank, claimed that without adequate funding, “mail service would likely stop and this would be a disaster for any election that relies on vote by mail.”

The Postal Service estimated at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic that it would need $75 billion to operate throughout the rest of the year. But the USPS is not necessarily in such a vulnerable position at this point because the actual loss in revenue was not as severe as initial projections, said Nick Zaiac, the report’s author.

“The Postal Service, right now, is more or less on the same trajectory it was … but it has not faced the absolute catastrophe that was thrown around at the beginning [of the pandemic],” Zaiac told WhoWhatWhy.

Activists Vow to Protect USPS as States Expand Mail-in Voting

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If the USPS decides to delay certain delivery services, especially as a result of local outbreaks of the coronavirus, there are several ways that voters can ensure their ballots are returned in a timely manner.

Prior to receiving their ballot, voters should do their research on the candidates and issues and be prepared to return their ballot quickly, Zaiac suggested.

“Don’t wait until the day before Election Day,” he said.

 Another option is for voters to personally deliver their ballots to their local ballot drop-off location. This option eases the burden on the Postal Service, especially where there are localized coronavirus outbreaks. 

Local election officials are also preparing drop-off boxes at in-person polling locations for use by voters who cannot return their ballots before Election Day.

“Any way that a state is allowing people to return ballots outside the postal stream is going to take pressure off the USPS to make sure that it does its job,” Zaiac said.

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Thomas Hawk / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).

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robert e williamson jr
robert e williamson jr
1 year ago

My suggestion would be that every concerned citizen bury both democrats and republicans in their districts with phone calls and E-mails. Rodney Davis who I have known since he was knee high had banned me from contacting him, the truth hurts and the rich kid couldn’t take the heat. Dick Durbin I believe he simply ignores me but he still takes my messages and I give him and the hapless democrats hell constantly.

I pretty sad to thing that the two parties cannot keep the USPS alive for another 90 days.

Philip A Montalvo
Philip A Montalvo
1 year ago

Democracy activists need to contact the Voter’s registrars to determine if they have coordinated with the USPS Business Service Network (BSN) every postal district. The BSN works with the Registrar’s on voter pamphlets and voter ballots on timely and comprehensive delivery.

Elizabeth Ferrio
Elizabeth Ferrio
1 year ago

I do not understand why you do not seem to be telling “the truth and nothing but”. As far as I know, the USPS is under intense pressure to collapse. It has been hamstrung by mythical pension expenses to be sure that it could not “declare” a profit. The President has been creating the picture of a failed company with all of his (non-existent) nuance. Now the current PostMaster is a man with no experience in this business who is enacting rules which make no sense for a successful delivery service. It seems clear that the President and his associates NEED to privatize the postal service to be sure that it will NOT BE ABLE to provide the service we need for a successful Vote By Mail election in November. Please don’t present that the USPS as the agent of their own failure. Thank you.

Andee Goldman
Andee Goldman
1 year ago

As one of 3 million overseas voters, I am very concerned that the USPS will place more countries on their International Mail Service Suspensions List; thus, ballots will not be sent by overseas and military voters.

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