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.