Persistent mail issues worry voters in final election week

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WASHINGTON – She waited and waited for her mail-in ballot to arrive until – well, infuriatingly – she couldn’t wait.

So this weekend, 25 days after Ohio election officials said they sent a mail-in ballot that never arrived, Laura Ruch, 30, will quit her medical scholarship in Atlanta, will rise to board a plane against her better judgment and will return home to vote in person amid a pandemic.

“It’s really frustrating,” said Ms Ruch, who repeatedly called and emailed election officials without receiving satisfactory answers about what happened to her ballot. “If this happens to me, it probably happens to a lot of people.”

In the final week of voting for the 2020 campaign, the worst fears about the postal service’s ability to handle the election season mail crash did not materialize, according to interviews this week with secretaries at State in the jurisdictions of the battlefields and electoral experts.

“Overall we’re happy with the service,” said Steve Simon, a Democrat who is secretary of state for Minnesota, where he expects up to 40 percent of voters to vote by mail.

But the postal service’s record of mailing ballots to voters and returning them to election authorities on time remains spotty and inconsistent enough to cause continued concern and to leave some voters anxious and searching. last-minute ways to ensure their votes are counted.

Figures reported by the service in court records show that the nationwide figure for on-time delivery of mail-in ballots rebounded this week from 89% on Tuesday to 97% on Wednesday, amid wide variations by region. The agency, which cautioned against over-reading daily fluctuations in performance, has designated election mail as its top priority and sets on-time as delivered within one to three days.

J. Remy Green, an attorney who represents 17 postal voters in a lawsuit in New York federal court, said the Postal Service was performing much better than its low point this summer, but numbers show more than 10% Of the ballots for a given day not being sorted in a timely manner this week remained troublesome.

“In that regard, 89% is quite shocking,” Mx. Green said. “Did you know they were ballots and you only received them 89% of the time?” It’s wild.

Questions of whether the mailed ballots will be received in time to be counted remain an election flashpoint and are the subject of litigation that has reached the Supreme Court several times this week. In the past few days, judges have ruled that Wisconsin cannot extend its deadline for receiving mail-in ballots, but left in place for now Pennsylvania’s plan to allow three more days for ballots. vote and said North Carolina could provide up to nine additional days. .

Persistent concern over mail-in ballots also appears to have contributed to the surge in voters who have flocked to vote early and in person. More than 28 million people had already voted in person and more than 51 million mail ballots were returned as of Thursday afternoon.

Postal service overall in around 60 of the country’s 67 postal districts still remains worse than it was before cost-cutting measures taken in July by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy significantly slowed service. And in 10 districts – including those critical to the outcome of the election, such as Philadelphia, Detroit, and northern Ohio – the performance of first-class mail is particularly slow, with more than 20% of mail delivered. late.

The Postal Service reported on Wednesday that first-class mail in Philadelphia met the standard of one- to three-day on-time delivery for just 58% of deliveries, and in Detroit the number was even lower: 52%.

Delivery rates fell sharply in July after Mr DeJoy, a Trump mega-donor who was hired to provide logistics expertise, pushed through cost-cutting measures, including limiting overtime and late truck trips, in an attempt to overhaul an agency suffering billion dollar losses. . The changes have sparked numerous complaints about the late delivery of drugs and animal deaths in packages amid a nationwide mail slowdown.

Mr DeJoy’s orders came as Mr Trump almost daily denounces the postal service and votes by mail, prompting postal workers, voters and election experts to warn of a real estate crisis that could starve record numbers Americans voting by mail. in November due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Delivery rates have rebounded from their July lows, but remain below on-time levels before Mr DeJoy was hired.

The improvement came after a series of court orders from judges across the country, in response to a dozen lawsuits against the postal service, forcing Mr DeJoy to reverse his changes. A New York federal court ruling, for example, ordered the Postal Service to treat all election mail, including ballots, as first class or priority mail; pre-approve all requested overtime from October 26 to November 6, peak hours for election mail; and submit a plan to restore on-time mail delivery to its highest level this year.

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The transition in leadership of the Postal Service has caused further “uncertainty” and “confusion” ahead of the election, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, said.

She added that the state had set up drop boxes in all municipalities, at least in part because of concerns about prolonged delays in mail delivery. Two weeks before polling day, his office began warning voters against returning their ballots in the mail.

In a separate lawsuit against the Florida Postal Service, attorneys representing the International Union of Service Employees have expressed particular concern about absentee voting in Miami-Dade County, where about 60 percent of postal ballots do not ‘have not yet been returned by Tuesday’s deadline.

Other battlefield states, such as North Carolina, have also reported that a large number of postal ballots have yet to be returned. It is not known whether the people who received these ballots failed to return them, left mailing them until the last minute, or changed their plans and decided to vote in person.

In an attempt to allay Democrats’ fears, Mr DeJoy, who has fought back against criticism he is trying to sabotage the election, authorized “extraordinary measures” this week that include “expedited handling, additional deliveries and special pickups’ to speed up the delivery ballot.

“The Postal Service is deploying all available resources to ensure that all election mail is routed through our system in a timely manner,” said Kristin Seaver, agency vice president responsible for delivery.

She acknowledged that mail delivery problems remained a problem in some pockets of the country, but said senior postal officials had “deployed additional services” to help local managers.

Stephanie Freeman, 66, a retiree from Dimondale, Mich., Said she suffered postal service downturns in several ways, including not delivering her auto insurance premium, she said .

When it came time to hand out her ballot, Ms. Freeman simply could not trust the agency to manage her vote; she chose to hand deliver her ballot paper to her local secretary’s office.

“As much as I love the USPS, I had no faith that these people would be able to do the job they were hired to do,” Ms. Freeman said. “It was vital that my riding received my vote directly from me.”

The steps Mr DeJoy has taken to prioritize election mail have allayed some fears and won some of his harshest criticism.

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Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, who clashed with Mr DeJoy, said in an interview that the postal ballot operations were largely successful.

“The process is working quite well,” even with the agency’s broader challenges, he said.

In Pennsylvania, Ohio, Mississippi, Alabama, Wyoming and Maryland – all parts of the country where mail is the slowest – election officials say they don’t generally see major problems with the postal service.

In at least two battlefield states – Ohio and Arizona – Postal Service officials have redirected ballots that were once supposed to be sorted out of state for more expedited processing of resident votes.

Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, said the delays she had seen so far appeared to be on par with previous election cycles, even with a huge increase in the volume of mail-in votes .

With days before election day, state and local authorities are now urging voters who have received ballots in the mail to use drop boxes or vote in person rather than risk using the mail. And postal workers say they are doing everything possible to ensure that the ballots don’t fall through the cracks.

Doug Meyer, a small parcel packet sorter and vice president of the United States Postal Service in Madison, Wisconsin, said he was part of a team that inspects his facility every day for ballots that could be left behind.

But voters who requested and never received their ballots – like Rachel Pickett, 37, a census worker from Earlville, NY – said they were not comforted by Mr. DeJoy.

Ms Pickett, who does not own a car, has requested ballots in the mail three times and never received any. Eventually, she gave up voting by mail and took a 45-minute ride to a polling station to vote in person.

“There are a lot of people who won’t be able to vote by mail, and it’s definitely the postal service’s fault,” she said.

As for Ms Ruch, whose mother also had to wait weeks to receive her ballot in the mail, she plans to vote in person on Saturday after taking a 700-mile flight to Detroit and then an hour south. to Toledo.

“I didn’t want to fly in the middle of a pandemic,” Ms. Ruch said. “I don’t want to stand in line for hours, be around people and increase my risk of exposure. But you have to do what you have to do to vote. “