Less than two weeks from an election in which a record number of people plan to vote by mail, U.S. Postal Service officials said on Thursday that they’re undertaking extraordinary measures to ensure that all ballots are delivered on time and are counted.
From expedited delivery to post office drive-throughs to drop-off ballot locations, the changes come as the nation’s mail service finds itself under extreme scrutiny in an election conducted during a pandemic and reportedly vulnerable to foreign manipulation.
In a national media briefing Thursday from Washington, D.C., USPS official Kristin Seaver said the postal system is “deploying all available resources” to get the mail out on time.
“Election mail will not be delayed,” she said.
A Star Tribune analysis of on-time delivery data found that first-class mail was delivered late this summer more often in Minnesota than in many other places around the country, a trend that peaked around mid-July when 1 in 4 pieces of mail wasn’t delivered on time. For that week, the district that includes Minnesota was the sixth worst out of 68 districts nationwide for on-time delivery.
If ballots are received late, they may still count depending on what state the voter lives in. In Minnesota, elections officials are prepared to count ballots that arrive within seven days of the election as long as they are postmarked by Election Day, Nov. 3. Across the border in Wisconsin, however, elections officials won’t accept late ballots even if they’re postmarked by Election Day.
An early test of the postal system’s ability to handle election mail in Minnesota, the Aug. 11 primary, mostly delivered positive news: Few ballots arrived late or were rejected.
The Postal Service was already reeling this summer from delivery challenges brought by the pandemic when new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy rolled out sweeping changes to staffing and delivery practices resulting in confusion and delays. A federal judge said the changes amounted to voter disenfranchisement, and DeJoy reversed course.
In addition to authorizing overtime for postal workers and extra trips if necessary to get ballots delivered, USPS officials on Thursday said that “extraordinary” efforts would go into effect Monday:
• Local post offices will have authority to postmark and deliver ballots directly to elections officials rather than pushing them through the main delivery systems.
• Carriers can hand ballots to their supervisors on Election Day, and a supervisor will deliver all ballots directly to election officials.
• Post offices may create special lines for dropping off ballots, or drive-throughs.
Post offices will have the flexibility to work directly with local election officials to carry out these measures, Seaver said.
The Postal Service has already delivered 100 million ballots since Sept. 4, counting ballots delivered to and from voters.
Data editor MaryJo Webster contributed to this report.