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Persistent mail issues worry voters in final election week

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

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. .

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Persistent concern over postal ballots also appears to have contributed to the increase in the number of voters who have gathered to vote early and in person. More than 28 million people had already voted in person and more than 52 million postal ballots had been 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 election outcome, like 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, to try to overhaul a billion dollar-lost agency. . The changes sparked widespread complaints that drugs were delivered late and animals dying 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 ahead of Mr. DeJoy’s hiring.

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.

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, Ms. Benson 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 the absentee vote in Miami-Dade County, where about 60 percent of the 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 confidence 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.”

Mr. DeJoy’s steps to prioritize election mail have allayed some fears and won some of his harshest criticism.

Mark Dimondstein, the president of the American Postal Workers Union, who clashed with Mr DeJoy, said in an interview that the postal voting 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 comparable to 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 do not fall through the cracks.

Doug Meyer, a small parcel packet sorter and vice president of the United States Postal Workers Union in the Madison, Wisconsin area, said he was part of a team that inspects his facility every day for ballots. vote 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. “

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How mail votes could delay election results

The New York Times asked election officials from seven swing states – Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – to explain the steps.

The process varies in these states and across the country, but here’s what typically happens.

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Time is running out, the mail is slow and the courts keep changing the rules. What should voters do?

Just over a week into the election campaign, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday that Wisconsin election officials could not accept any ballots arriving after the polls closed on November 3.

While the decision was widely expected, it only added to confusion among voters in an electoral process made particularly difficult by the pandemic. Michigan voters faced a similar problem when an appeals court ruled that the state could not accept ballots after election day. And Pennsylvania voters remain concerned as a new challenge to extending their voting deadline has been filed in federal court.

Then there are the uncertainties as to whether the Postal Service can be counted to deliver the ballots by next Tuesday in many other states. Here are the options for those who want to make sure their vote counts.

The Postal Service sent a letter to states in August, recommending that they tell voters to send their ballots out by Tuesday, a week before election day, if they wanted to make sure they arrived at time.

The Postal Service reported that on-time delivery rates for first-class mail are well below its target in October.

According to a press release on Friday, during the week of October 10, the most recent for which data is available, the Postal Service saw on-time first-class mail delivery drop to 85.6%, or nearly from a low of 83%. during the summer peak of the pandemic in July.

Normally, the agency reports on-time delivery, defined as within two days, at rates above 95%.

Data compiled by the New York Times that tracks on-time delivery rates reveals stubbornly persistent multi-day delays throughout October, with major battlefield states including Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina face continuing problems.

Anticipating the pressure to send ballots to election commissions as quickly and efficiently as possible, the Postal Service has implemented measures to sort and expedite election-specific mail, which is often labeled and barcoded, making it easier monitoring and prioritization.

According to court filing data the agency provided during a lawsuit over operational changes that led to delays in September, the Postal Service said on-time delivery of election mail reached 97.2% to the era, even though the overall on-time delivery for first-class mail was only 84.2% then.

“It’s treated differently,” said Michael Plunkett, president of the Postal Trade Association. “They are doing things to identify it and isolate it in the network and devote resources to making sure factories are cleared of election mail on a daily basis.”

To be on the safe side, some experts recommend voters who have the option of delivering ballots directly to election officials or to collection points themselves.

“I would not be mailing a ballot under this circumstance, and I think for anyone who can, vote in person or drop it in a box,” said Paul F. Steidler, a senior researcher who studies the operations and policies of the postal service at the Lexington Institute, a research group.

If a voter has already received a ballot and can’t send it in time to make sure it arrives on polling day, a drop box is the best bet. Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, among others, have set up drop boxes in counties or municipalities where a voter can cast a ballot. These secure drop boxes will receive ballots until polling day and will not be subject to any mail delay. County electoral offices also accept postal ballots.

If a voter does not feel comfortable voting by mail ballot now, there are still other options.

In Wisconsin, people who have already requested a ballot but have not yet returned it can show up and vote early until November 1, or vote in person on election day. They can also vote in person if they have received their ballot but have not yet returned it by mail and do not need to present it themselves at the polls.

In Pennsylvania, voters must bring their package of mail-in ballots, including the two envelopes, to a polling station on election day and return it to be voided by election officials. After signing an affidavit guaranteeing that they have not voted by mail, voters can vote in person on the machines. Without an absent ballot, a voter will have to vote provisionally on polling day.

Voters in Michigan have a similar option to Pennsylvania, where they can take a postal ballot on election day to overturn it and then vote in person. Voters who do not have their ballot can sign an affidavit at their polling station and then vote normally.

Experts also warned voters on Monday not to turn to private carriers like UPS or FedEx to handle ballots after a photo circulated on social media showing singer Lady Gaga holding her ballot and a FedEx envelope. Some states do not accept ballots if they are delivered by a private carrier. And states generally require that voting envelopes bear a postmark, which only the Postal Service can apply.

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A week before the elections, time is running out to vote by mail

WASHINGTON – With just one week before the Nov. 3 election, the window is quickly closing for many people still planning to vote by mail by mail.

The Postal Service reported that on-time delivery rates for first-class mail are well below its target throughout October, and a growing number of election experts and officials are warning many voters parts of the country not to rely on mail. their ballots and instead hand them over directly to election officials or to the collection points themselves.

According to a press release on Friday, during the week of October 10, the most recent for which data is available, the Postal Service saw on-time first-class mail delivery drop to 85.6%, or nearly from a low of 83%. during the summer peak of the pandemic in July.

Normally, the agency reports on-time delivery, defined as within two days, at rates above 95%.

Data compiled by the New York Times that tracks on-time delivery rates reveals stubbornly persistent multi-day delays throughout October, with major battlefield states including Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina face continuing problems.

“I would not be mailing a ballot under this circumstance, and I think for anyone who can, vote in person or drop it in a box,” said Paul F. Steidler, a senior researcher who studies the operations and policies of the postal service at the Lexington Institute, a research group.

Anticipating the pressure to get ballots to election commissions as quickly and efficiently as possible, the postal service has put in place measures to sort and expedite election-specific mail, which is often labeled and bar-coded, which facilitates monitoring and prioritization.

According to court filing data the agency provided during a lawsuit over operational changes that led to delays in September, the Postal Service said on-time delivery of election mail reached 97.2% to the era, even though the overall on-time delivery for first-class mail was only 84.2% then.

“It’s treated differently,” said Michael Plunkett, president of the Postal Trade Association. “They are doing things to identify it and isolate it in the network and devote resources to making sure factories are cleared of election mail on a daily basis.”

Kristin Seaver, Retail and Delivery Manager for the Postal Service, said the agency was “taking the necessary steps to devote additional resources to mail advancement to increase the speed of delivery of all mail. other mail ”.

“This will remain our number one priority during the elections,” she said.

But experts have warned that not all ballots from local election authorities and voters in different parts of the country are identified, and a significant portion is likely still bundled with first-class mail.

Critics add that the lack of real-time data on the worst downturns is also preventing voters from knowing how the area in which they live may be affected.

In an Oct.20 investigative update on the agency, Senator Gary Peters, Democrat of Michigan, released information showing that mail to several major areas, including Philadelphia, Baltimore and Detroit, was further delayed. 20% of the time in early October, and Michigan as a whole had experienced delays.

On the same day, two weeks before the election, Michigan’s top election official urged voters to skip the mail altogether and turn the ballots over to a collection box or local secretary.

Adding to the uncertainty, the timelines for receiving ballots vary from state to state and have changed amid a flood of lawsuits.

Earlier this month, a federal appeals court ruled that all Michigan mail-in ballots must be received before election day, rejecting an extension that would allow late ballot counting. On Monday, the Supreme Court issued a similar ruling for Wisconsin, requiring ballots for absentees in the state to be received by 8 p.m. on November 3.

In August, the Postal Service recommended that all voters send in their ballots by Tuesday, October 27 to ensure they arrive on time.

This first-class mail being delayed in parts of the country doesn’t necessarily mean that voters who have recently sent out ballots should be concerned about their ballots arriving on time. Throughout the pandemic, the vast majority of late mail still arrived within three days, with only a small fraction arriving two or more days late.

“The fact that once you add one day to the service levels, you’re back nationwide and delivery goes over 95%, what’s the problem?” said Mark M. Fallon, chairman of The Berkshire Company, a consulting firm that advises on mail handling strategies. “However, when you have these local hot spots and the lack of transparency, you basically create an atmosphere where people don’t trust the postal service, and that’s what worries me.”

Experts also warned voters on Monday not to turn to private carriers like UPS or FedEx to handle ballots after a photo circulated on social media showing singer Lady Gaga holding her ballot and a FedEx envelope. . Voters who have not yet returned the ballots should take them to a drop box or polling station, the experts said.