Barring the unexpected, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is poised to have another solidly successful election season, meaning it will promptly deliver ballots to and from voters. Below are five major reasons this is likely, and related issues to address after the election.
Passed a Trial by Fire in 2020. Amid historically high voter turnout and COVID-19, in 2020 the average time for USPS to deliver ballots from voters to election officials was
1.6 days. 97.9 percent of ballots from voters were delivered to election officials within three days.
USPS prioritized ballots in processing operations and conducted regular sweeps in facilities to expedite deliveries. It added extra transportation, staff and overtime, and coordinated special deliveries in thousands of locations. These steps are being repeated this year.
Improved Practices and Procedures. USPS has improved its processes since 2020. It has implemented corrective actions from its Office of Inspector General and established an Election and Government Mail Services Organization. Earlier this year, USPS sent election mail kits to 8,000 election officials, providing ample time and clear guidance for how election officials could work best with USPS.
Election Officials are Working Better with USPS. In 2020, relations were at times hostile and chaotic between election officials and USPS, often because election agencies were quick to disregard reasonable mail delivery time frames.
The Wall Street Journal, for example, reported “that one day before the (primary) voting, on June 22, the city Board of Elections dropped 34,359 items, presumably ballots, into the mail stream. Postal workers tried to expedite them, but some of the ballots were sent to New Yorkers temporarily out of state, who could not possibly have received them in time.”
Additional outreach by USPS and its ongoing availability and work with election officials have also resulted in smoother operations.
Non-partisan Leadership. By design, the U.S. Postal Service has non-partisan leadership. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a one-time mega-fundraiser and contributor to President Donald Trump and the Republican Party, reports to a nine-member Board of Governors. No more than five members of the Board can be from the same political party. In 2020 and subsequently, the postmaster general has enthusiastically and effectively driven USPS’s vote-by-mail work.
Governor Amber McReynolds, a leading expert on election administration and policy, chairs the Board of Governors Election Mail Committee. Her USPS biography says, “She is the Founding CEO of the National Vote at Home Institute, a non-partisan non-profit dedicated to expanding and improving vote-by-mail systems in all fifty states.”
McReynolds was appointed to the Board by President Biden and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in May 2021. Her commitment to effective and efficient mail-in voting has helped take USPS’s election mail operations to an even higher level.
Five of the nine current governors were appointed by President Biden.
Extraordinary Measures Are in Place in 2022. Starting on Oct. 24, USPS has implemented extraordinary measures to ensure timely delivery of ballots. These include:
- Extra deliveries and collections;
- Special pick-ups;
- Expanded processing facility hours
- Sort plans at all processing facilities to expedite delivery to boards of elections; and
- Bypassing processing facilities when it will mean quicker delivery of ballots.
Issues Going Forward
USPS will need to maintain vigilance throughout the election season. Fighting off overconfidence, and even complacency, may be its biggest challenges.
As it has in past elections, USPS and its Office of Inspector General will issue reports on this year’s mail-in voting. These should include clear examples of the best and worst practices from boards of elections so that best practices will be more widely adopted.
USPS will gain about $35 million in additional revenues from mail-in voting this year, but it will not be enough to cover its costs. For example, USPS will provide first-class mail service to boards of election that distribute ballots at marketing mail rates. Its extraordinary measures also add costs.
USPS should develop a separate product category, or class of mail, for election mail so that the costs are better identified and paid by those who use this service. Simply put, USPS should receive more revenue from boards of election for this reasonably priced service.
Paul Steidler is a Senior Fellow with the Lexington Institute, a public policy think tank based in Arlington, Va.