WASHINGTON, DC — The U.S. Postal Service is warning states that voters risk not getting their ballots back to election offices in time because of lags in mail delivery, according to letters reviewed by Diversity News, adding a new level of uncertainty to the coming presidential election and leaving states to ascertain how to adjust.
Multiple states received communications from the USPS general counsel outlining standard mail delivery times and prices leading up to the November election and warning secretaries of state that election laws established by the states would not necessarily guarantee that mail-in ballots will be received in time to be counted.
Diversity News obtained letters sent to Washington, Pennsylvania, California and North Carolina. The Utah lieutenant governor's office also confirmed to Diversity News that it received a letter at the end of July. The Washington Post reported 46 states and Washington, D.C., all received similar warnings.
"Certain deadlines concerning mail-in ballots, particularly with respect to new residents who register to vote shortly before Election Day, appear to be incongruous with the Postal Service's delivery standards," USPS General Counsel Thomas Marshall wrote to California Secretary of State Alex Padilla. "This mismatch creates a significant risk that some ballots will not be returned by mail in time to be counted under your laws as we understand them."
The letters list standard mail delivery times and prices for first-class and marketing mail, the two types of mail USPS sends. Many states use the nonprofit marketing mail rate to send election mail, including absentee and mail-in ballots and ballot applications to voters.
The letters state that election mail must be sent from voters by first-class mail, which is more expensive than the nonprofit marketing rate.
"State or local election officials may generally use either First-Class Mail or Marketing Mail to mail blank ballots to voters," the letters state.
First-class mail takes between two and five days to be received, while marketing mail takes between three and 10 days to be received, according to USPS. That, according to Pennsylvania's secretary of commonwealth, is a longer delivery time than what was factored in for the primaries in June, according to a filing in a related court case.
The slower delivery is, according to the court filing, a likely outcome of recent changes put in place by the post office that have been criticized for putting at risk the ability to conduct vote by mail across the country. As a result, Pennsylvania said it is willing to extend its deadline to receive ballots to up to three days after the election, provided they are mailed by Election Day.
While the letter states USPS is not recommending changing election laws in these states, it says it is simply reminding the states that USPS cannot adjust its delivery standards for state election laws.