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If you pause occasionally as you read this, you can probably hear my friend Brian Newby – election geek and Post Office skeptic – SCREAMING.
Dallas County, TX election officials are scrambling after news emerged that hundreds of voters had been put on the inactive (“suspended”) list after their voter registration cards were returned as undeliverable. That’s not unusual – people do move, after all – but in this case there was a real problem. CBSDFW has more:
Officials with the United States Postal Service say they have fired a North Texas mail carrier for skipping part of his route and not delivering a significant amount of mail by simply marking the letters and packages ‘return to sender.’
A number of items returned included voter registration cards and that’s now caused concern for Dallas County elections officials.
A single voter’s complaint led the Dallas County Elections Department to investigate and discover the post office delivery issue.
On Tuesday Dallas County Commissioners heard from elections administrator Toni Pippins-Poole. She told city leaders that a City Carrier Assistant working in Irving had been cutting his route short and stamping undelivered mail [all mail, not just election mail – ed.] return to sender.
The problem wasn’t noticed right away because the returned mail numbers were in line with past data – but then an email from a voter prompted a closer look:
Apparently the mail carrier was doing this at the same time that voter registration cards were going out. As a result at least 388 voters in west Irving had their registration wrongfully suspended. Pippins-Poole said the department usually gets about 10-percent of cards returned so the office didn’t immediately notice there was a problem …
North Texan Robbi Hamida said he first noticed problems with his mail in December, but assumed the winter storm was to blame. “It was kind of shocking to find out the post office was sending everything back,” he said.
Hamida said he learned from relatives in December their Christmas cards were being returned. “Went to the postmaster general, tried to go through the postal police. No one was responding to us, and it just got worse.”
The missing mail also began to create financial issues for Hamida. He said a credit card charged him a $39 late fee, for failing to pay a bill he never received. Another card, he says, closed his account altogether. “The credit cards, the billing, family letters – it basically made me look really bad,” he said.
When Hamida went to vote he discovered his voter registration had been suspended after the post office returned his voter registration card, indicating he no longer lived in his home.
That’s standard operating procedure in many election offices – but now the news of the problem is forcing Dallas County to go back and check all of its suspended voters just in case. The timing couldn’t be much worse:
Out of more than one million voter registration cards mailed the department has had more than 90,000 returned this year. Workers are now trying to determine how many cards were returned from the route of the one mail carrier.
Pippins-Poole said the department will need help going through the returned cards. “We’re gonna have to hire additional… because we’re already full with the current election. So we’re gonna have to find temporary personnel to come in, so there is gonna be a cost for that to bring in temporary personnel to go through those and see if there really is a much wider problem”…
Dallas County officials said the affected voters will still be able to vote, they will be required to sign an affidavit at the polls confirming they still live at their listed address.
This appears to be just an isolated problem involving a handful of bad and/or inattentive employees – but it highlights how much the election system depends on a reliable postal system to function properly, and the consequences when the USPS doesn’t hold up its end of the bargain.
I’m guessing that Brian Newby isn’t the only election official who’s going to clip this article and discuss with the local post office – a loss of trust like this is huge and the last thing election officials or voters need as we enter another high-stakes national election year.