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You may have enough time before election day to send in your postal ballot papers, but the United States Postal Service has warned several states that many votes may not be cast in time to be counted. Election officials are responding by asking voters to send in their ballots as soon as possible to prevent delays from affecting the outcome of the 2020 US presidential election.
The postal vote has been around since the Civil War, but demand for it is expected to increase in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Health concerns about the highly contagious disease result in a historic number of requests for postal ballot papers.
The Trump administration has falsely claimed that postal ballot papers will lead to widespread election fraud. He appointed a new postmaster general whose policies would allegedly slow down the delivery and processing of mail.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Senate Chairman Chuck Schumer urged President Donald Trump to stop the cuts in USPS and accused the White House of sabotaging the service in support of his re-election bid.
“The president has made it clear that he will manipulate the Post’s operations to refuse eligible voters to vote in order to get his own re-election,” Pelosi and Schumer said in a joint statement on Friday.
In late July, the USPS sent letters to election officials in key battlefield states such as Minnesota and Pennsylvania warning that postal ballot papers might not be delivered on time.
“After reading through your state’s electoral laws, which were in effect on July 27, 2020, certain state law requirements and deadlines appear to be inconsistent with the postal service’s delivery standards and the recommended timeframe outlined above,” said USPS General Counsel Thomas J. Marshall said in a letter to the Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon.
The recommended timeframe was for voters to send their ballots no later than October 27, one week before the election. Minnesota’s electoral law allows voters to apply for a ballot the day before the election, and the USPS warns that they will not be able to cast the ballot within 24 hours.
“To the extent that post is used to deliver ballot papers to and from voters, there is therefore a significant risk that ballot papers, at least under certain circumstances, will be requested and returned in a manner that complies with your voting rules immediately and yet not returned on time to be counted, “said Marshall’s letter.
The Washington Post reported that 46 states have received warnings from the USPS that votes may not arrive in time for counting, as certain states have electoral laws that invalidate ballot papers if they arrive after election day.
“Through these efforts, the Postal Service is encouraging electoral officials and voters to be realistic about how the mail works and to consider our delivery standards in order to give voters adequate time to cast their votes in the mail,” USPS said in a statement.
These potential delays create doubts and misinformation about postal ballot papers, leading election officials to speak about voting earlier.
The warning that ballot papers are not arriving on time is more likely to apply to last-minute voters than to those who cast their votes weeks before the deadline. Therefore, election officials urge voters to take immediate action.
“If people want to vote from home, order your ballots ASAP. Once you get them, vote when you’re comfortable,” said Simon. He noted that voters could also put their ballots in a drop-off box instead of relying on USPS.
Given the Trump administration’s cuts to USPS services, this might be a preferable path, the Secretary of State suggested.
“Just because you got your ballot in the mail doesn’t mean you have to send it back this way. As long as you come up with a plan and allow enough time, it shouldn’t be a problem,” he said.
Election officials are also taking legal action to change state rules regarding election deadlines so they can come in on time.
The State Department of Pennsylvania, which received the same warning as Minnesota, is asking the state Supreme Court to allow postal ballot papers to be counted if they are received within three days of the election, provided they are postmarked by November 3, according to CBS News.
A Minnesota court order on August 4th extended the state’s electoral deadline, allowing votes to be counted if received within a week of election day and postmarked by November 3rd. However, the state is still trying to avoid as many votes as possible. Minute pickers lost as much as possible due to the USPS slowing down.
Disinformation is a major concern in the presidential election. Social networks work to prevent jokes about voting in the mail from spreading. These warning letters add another layer, and election officials hope their efforts will be enough to dispel doubts about the outcome.
“I sincerely hope that a letter like this, which no one seems to have remembered in previous cycles, is not part of a coordinated strategy to cast doubt on the effectiveness of the home vote,” said Simon. “You can try to slow down the postal service, but you will not slow down democracy.”