The U.S. Postal Service has always played a vital role in the American democratic process, but never more so than in the 2020 general election, when a global pandemic drove up the number of people voting by mail. A record-setting 160 million total ballots were cast, and the Postal Service delivered at least 135 million of them going to and coming from voters from September 1 through November 3.
And yet, as Election Day approached, it wasn’t clear how well the Postal Service would perform. COVID-19 had taken a toll on staffing levels, and operational changes instituted during the summer raised concerns about USPS’s ability to process and deliver millions of ballots on time. To evaluate performance, we conducted unannounced site visits in October at 102 mail processing plants and 1,710 delivery/retail units. These visits covered all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. During the week of the election, we conducted daily, announced site visits at 27 mail processing plants and 56 delivery/retail units.
As we noted in our recent audit report, we found the Postal Service successfully made processing Election Mail its number one priority. In fact, despite the historic volume of ballots, USPS significantly improved timeliness and surpassed its performance for the 2018 mid-term election for all scanned election mail. Extra transportation, employee overtime, and other extraordinary measures helped considerably to boost delivery performance, and while we did identify some delayed Election Mail and compliance issues, the Postal Service took immediate corrective actions.
We also found opportunities to increase the number of ballots included in service performance measurement and for USPS to improve its internal communication on Election Mail guidance and processes. As a result, the Postal Service should be even better prepared for the next general election.
Did you vote by mail? What was your experience like?