The objective of our audit was to evaluate the Postal Service’s readiness for timely processing of election and political mail for the 2018 midterm elections.
Election mail is a mailpiece that an authorized election official creates for voters participating in the election process, while political mail is mail used for political campaign purposes.
General and midterm elections are scheduled every four and two years, respectively. Special elections are also held outside of this cycle for specific purposes, often to fill an office that has become vacant. The next midterm elections will be held on November 6, 2018.
We conducted site observations at six mail processing facilities that were processing election and political mail for five special elections held on January 16 and January 23, 2018. The sites we selected were the Milwaukee, WI, Pittsburgh, PA, and St. Paul, MN, Processing and Distribution Centers (P&DCs); the Charleston, SC, Processing and Distribution Facility (P&DF); and the St. Paul and Pittsburgh Network Distribution Centers (NDCs). We also observed Business Mail Entry Unit (BMEU) operations at the Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, and St. Paul P&DCs and the Charleston P&DF.
What the OIG Found
The Postal Service was not ready for the January 2018 special elections; however, since our field work it has improved readiness and should be ready for the timely processing of election and political mail for the 2018 midterm elections. Additionally, it has adequate response time for any further 2018 midterm election needs.
We found that communication between headquarters and the mail processing facilities needed improvement. Specifically, we found that plant managers at the six mail processing facilities we visited and seven of the eight election and political mail coordinators we interviewed said that headquarters did not notify them of the special elections in their processing service areas. The Manager, Operations Integration and Support, notified mail processing facilities by email about the special elections on January 18, 2018, after the start of our field work and the special elections.
In addition, we found employees at the Milwaukee and St. Paul P&DCs and the Charleston P&DF did not have an adequate understanding of the procedures for processing election and political mail. When election and political mail guidance, training, and service talks are not timely, employees are more likely to make errors or cause delays in the handling of election and political mail.
For example, we found election and political mail processing errors at three of the six sites we visited:
- St. Paul NDC employees moved political mail to the P&DC staging area without telling P&DC management about the transfer. Other mail was staged in front of it, which could have caused the political mail not to be seen and expedited.
- There was a sort plan error at the Charleston P&DF that caused additional manual sorting of election mail at the delivery station.
- An employee at the Milwaukee P&DC removed ballots from automated mail processing because he believed the equipment would damage the mail.
We brought these issues to the attention of local management, who immediately corrected them during our site visits.
Finally, we found the Postal Service had not updated its internal election and political campaign mail website since 2016. This website includes standard operating procedures, services talks, handouts, presentations, and other resources for managers and employees to use during elections. The Manager,
Election and Political Mailing Service Products, said there had been no significant changes to the website’s information since 2016. They updated the internal site by the end of February 2018, after our field work was complete.
The eight election and political mail coordinators we interviewed cited five different websites they use to gather election and political mail information. One of the five websites was updated in February 2018, but the other four were not. We also found that the Postal Service posted two different lists of election and political mail coordinators for customers on USPS.com — one dated 2016 and the other dated 2018. We determined that the names of 38 of 74 coordinators (or over 51 percent) were different on the two published lists. We brought the four additional website and coordinator list discrepancies to the attention of the Manager, Operations Integration and Support, who corrected them immediately. When internal and external websites are outdated, users don’t know what election information is the most current.
The Postal Service’s Processing Operations Management Order (POMO-003-16) published in 2016 requires election and political mail area and district coordinators to communicate to all employees and act as the liaison for operations with headquarters, area, and district election and political mail teams. The election and political mail information in POMO-003-16 was updated and reissued in February 2018, after our field work and the special elections were complete. Election and political mail area and district coordinators are also supposed to conduct webinars, give employee service talks to provide election and political mail training to employees, and implement standard operating procedures. The training was provided to employees between February and April of 2018.
The Postal Service uses Informed Visibility to measure near real-time Intelligent Mail Barcode tracking information. We identified that in Quarter 1, FY 2018, the national performance score for election and political mail was about 92 percent — around 4 percent below the goal and more than 4 percent below the Quarter 1, FY 2017 score. The Manager, P&DC Operations, said that service performance decline reflects the overall service performance decline and is not isolated to election and political mail. He said several weather-related issues, as well as air transportation hub issues, contributed to the service performance decline.
What the OIG Recommended
We recommended management:
- Ensure an annually updated and documented communication plan that includes all Postal Service election documents and web pages for headquarters and mail processing facilities for general, midterm, and special elections is available;
- Conduct standardized election and political mail training for all mail processing employees at least annually; and
- Update internal and external website information, including processing instructions and election and political mail coordinator contact information, annually at a minimum and no less than six months before, a general, midterm, or special election.