“Every vote counts!” is a common election-time cry to get people to the ballot box, but it took on a whole new level of meaning for the Postal Service last year. During the 2020 general election alone, the Postal Service delivered over 135 million ballots to and from voters.
Prior to the pandemic, voting by mail had already become an increasingly popular option, with five states sending mail ballots to all registered voters. With the pandemic keeping many Americans from voting in person, voting by mail increased significantly, and it was up to the Postal Service to deliver ballots securely and on time. That’s not an easy task, given that vote-by-mail processes not only vary from one state to another, but, in some states, from one community to another.
In our newly released OIG white paper, Vote by Mail and the Postal Service: A Primer, we provide an overview of vote-by-mail processes, how they vary, and challenges they present to the Postal Service and other entities, including election boards and the vendors they hire. We found the decentralized nature of managing elections poses a particular challenge. The lack of standardized outgoing or incoming ballot envelopes can make ballots difficult to identify in USPS facilities and less efficient for machines to process. In some cases, the placement of a voter’s name and address on the back of a return envelope resulted in envelopes being mistakenly returned to voters. Other challenges include mail ballot application deadlines that don’t allow enough time for USPS to process and deliver the ballots, as well as state postmarking requirements that force the Postal Service to alter its postmarking practices during elections.
While we don’t know if voters will continue to vote by mail at the same levels as 2020, we still suggest that the Postal Service continue to educate state and local election boards on best practices and incorporate some changes that might allow for better tracking of ballot mail.
Did you vote by mail in 2020? What was your experience? Let us know!