Postal Service warns NC: We can't deliver ballots in time for voters who wait

Posted August 14, 2020 3:50 p.m. EDT
Updated August 14, 2020 4:14 p.m. EDT

— The U.S. Postal Service has warned officials in North Carolina and in other states that late deadlines for absentee voting mean voters who wait may find their ballots delayed in the mail and ultimately uncounted.

A top postal official reached out to the state at the end of last month, saying "it is particularly important that voters be made aware of the transit times."

He recommended that ballot request forms – the first step to getting an actual ballot, which also has to be returned – come in at least 15 days before the Nov. 3 election, "and preferably long before that time.”

The last day North Carolina voters can request a ballot by law, though, is seven days before the election. To count, ballots must then be filled out and postmarked by Election Day and received at the county elections office within three days of the election.

“We wanted to note that, under our reading of North Carolina’s election laws, certain deadlines for requesting and casting mail-in ballots are incongruous with the Postal Service’s delivery standards," Thomas J. Marshall, general counsel and executive vice president for the Postal Service, said in his letter.

"This mismatch creates a risk that ballots requested near the deadline under state law will not be returned by mail in time to be counted," he wrote.

Election officials have repeatedly encouraged people to request their ballots early and mail them back early. Ballots can be requested now, though they won't be mailed out to voters until Sept. 4.

Right now, they must be requested by printing out a form, but officials are working on an online request portal and a way to track ballots through the system, much like you'd track a package.

The Postal Service letter initially went to Secretary of State Elaine Marshall. In many states, that office oversees elections, though in North Carolina, the office has nothing to do with it, and elections are handled by the State Board of Elections.

The letter was forwarded to the State Board of Elections this week.

The letter is dated July 30, but stamped as received Aug. 13. It was actually received a day after it was sent, though, via one-day USPS mail, according to a spokesman for the Secretary of State's Office.

It was stamped later, when administrative staff in Marshall's office received it, the spokesman said.

In recommending that voters request their ballots at least 15 days before the election, the letter suggests that the state allow at least one week for ballots that they send out to get to voters and at least another week for the ballot to return.

Concerns that the Postal Service won't be able to handle the expected increase in voting by mail this year have been simmering for months, but they've begun to boil over. The president said this week that he doesn't want to increase Postal Service funding because he doesn't want voting by mail to increase.

He has repeatedly questioned voting by mail, despite his own party's push to get Republican voters to do it.

Louis DeJoy, a Greensboro businessman who has been a major Republican donor and fundraiser for years, was named the nation's postmaster general earlier this year.

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