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Will Postal Service delays impact primary election?

By: Jonathan Shead | C&G Newspapers | Published July 26, 2020

 United States Postal Service delivery vehicles sit at the United States Post Office in Farmington Hills.

United States Postal Service delivery vehicles sit at the United States Post Office in Farmington Hills.

Photo by Jonathan Shead

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many aspects of life to slow down, if not halt entirely. Across Oakland County some residents have likely experienced delays in their mail service since the pandemic began. 

As Michigan draws closer to its Aug. 4 primary election, which has seen increases in absentee ballot voting, will those delays end up having an impact on voters ability to submit their ballots on time and have them counted? 

United States Postal Service Strategic Communications Specialist for the Detroit District Elizabeth Najduch said in an email that the USPS is “aware of some of the current operational impacts due to temporary employee availability consistent with the ongoing (effects) of COVID-19 on the community.” 

“We are taking all available action to mitigate these impacts and to quickly restore reliable services,” she said. “As we anticipate that many voters may choose to use the mail to participate in the upcoming elections due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are conducting and will continue to proactively conduct outreach with state and local election officials … so they can make informed decisions and educate the public about what they can expect when using the mail to vote.”

Najduch added that those efforts include working with election officials to ensure their mail service needs “comport with postal regulations, improve mailpiece visibility, and ensure efficient and cost-effective processing and delivery.” 

Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown said she’s heard from concerned residents about mail service delays. 

“I’ve received some emails from voters who are concerned that they requested their absentee ballots and haven’t received it yet,” she said, adding that there’s an absentee ballot tracker tool on her and the Michigan Secretary of State’s websites that allow voters to track where their ballot is in the process. 

Farmington Hill City Clerk Pam Smith is encouraging voters in her jurisdiction to send in their absentee ballots as early as possible. 

“Just a reminder, get it in as soon as you can if you’re going to mail it … because we have heard from the USPS that it could take up to a week to get ballots returned,” she said, adding that she’s been pretty impressed with the Postal Service’s quick turnaround in her city, but it’s still better to err on the side of caution. 

Najduch said the USPS recommended requesting an absentee ballot, if voters choose to vote that way, as early as possible, but no later than 15 days prior to the Aug. 4 primary date — that would have been July 20. She also recommends voters mail their ballots in at least one week prior to the deadline “to allow for timely receipt by election officials.” Najduch also recommends voters contact their local election officials for more specific information on deadlines and possible delays in their city. 

Brown said ballots not received by local clerks on time will, unfortunately, not be counted, regardless of the reason for being late. 

“Our law is that it has to be received by the local clerk by 8 p.m. on election day. Nothing in Michigan law talks about the postmark (date). Other states do. We do not,” Brown said. 

Brown said that mailing in your absentee ballot isn’t the only method. Some municipalities have secure drop-box locations, and voters can also hand deliver their ballots to their local clerk’s office. 

“As long as they have transportation, they could go and drop off the ballot themselves and not have to worry about having the right amount of postage and how long they have to allot for it to be delivered on time, to make sure it’s in the clerk’s hands by 8 p.m. election day,” she said. “I’ve been really trying to encourage that to alleviate the burden on the USPS.” 

Overall, Najduch said, the USPS is ready and equipped to handle an increased volume of mail due to the pandemic. 

“Our network is designed to handle increases in volume and deliver that mail in a timely manner. Additionally, the Postal Service has long-standing processes to align workforce to workload, including contingencies to respond to events like the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said via email, adding that disruptions or delays are communicated to customers through the Postal Services alerts webpage.