Thursday, July 16, 2020

Vote by mail -- yes, but . . . July 16, 2020 column


The old adage about voting “early and often” may be half true this Election Day.

With more voters than ever likely to cast absentee ballots Nov. 3, more will be relying on the U.S. Postal Service. Voting early is advisable.

Major operational changes the new postmaster general is making that could slow mail service are disconcerting, especially as problems with undelivered absentee ballots already have popped up around the country during primary season.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy told postal employees Monday in memos obtained and verified by The Washington Post the agency must operate more like a private business, would prohibit overtime and curtail other measures post offices use to deliver mail when understaffed.

Traditionally, the postal service has been run as a service, going the extra mile, so to speak, to make multiple trips to deliver letters and packages rather than leaving them in distribution centers overnight. No more.

“If plants run late, they will keep the mail for the next day,” a memo titled “New PMG’s [Postmaster General’s] expectations and plan” said, the Post reported.

Congressional allies of the Postal Service were quick to criticize the changes.

“If these reports are accurate, Trump and his cronies are openly seeking to destroy the post office during the worst public health crisis in a century,” Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., Democrat of New Jersey, said in a statement.

“With states now reliant on voting by mail to continue elections during the pandemic, the destabilizing of the post office is a direct attack on American democracy itself,” said Pascrell.

DeJoy, a North Carolina businessman and Trump mega-donor, took over as postmaster general in June at a critical time. President Donald Trump in April called the Postal Service “a joke” and said it should quadruple its package delivery fees, a move apparently aimed at Amazon chief Jeff Bezos, who owns the Post.

The beleaguered Postal Service is actually faring better financially during the pandemic because of the strong demand for package deliveries. Companies often use the postal service for “last mile” local deliveries.

But even before the latest cost-cutting measures, the Postal Service has struggled to adjust to a surge in absentee ballots. In 2020, many more voters are choosing to vote from home rather than stand in long lines.

In Dallas, some voters who had mailed in their absentee ballots for Tuesday’s elections unaccountably received them back only a day or two before the election, The Dallas Morning News reported.

In Wisconsin, three tubs of absentee ballot were found at a Milwaukee post office after the polls closed for the April 7 election. In addition, absentee ballots requested were not delivered and hundreds more mailed by voters were not postmarked.

Requests for absentee ballots in Wisconsin have soared 440% since 2016, a Postal Service inspector general report found, adding that date changes for mailing and completing ballots due to the coronavirus also complicated the spring elections.

The IG report identified potential nationwide issues it said could affect future elections. Among them: Some states set too-short deadlines to request absentee ballots, ballots lack mail-tracking technology and poor communication between the Postal Service and election offices.

About half the states have deadlines to request ballots of less than a week before Election Day. These deadlines “put ballots at high risk of not being delivered to voters before an election,” the report warned.

In Virginia, the deadline to request an absentee ballot by mail is 5 p.m. Oct. 23, but a voter can request an absentee ballot online or vote in person at their local registrar’s office 45 days before Election Day. You no longer need a reason to vote early in person or to cast an absentee ballot.

If you’re returning your ballot by mail, it must be postmarked on or before Election Day and received by your registrar by noon on the third day after the election. Rules are slightly different for first time voters. See Virginia rules.  

No one knows what the novel coronavirus will be doing Nov. 3. So, don’t wait until the last minute. Vote early. America needs every ballot to count.

©2020 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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