Please, Mr. Postman: Orem, UT Gets 1,270 Mail Ballots Delivered Late


[Image courtesy of familysearch]

Mail call was a little more eventful than usual in Orem, UT last Wednesday, when the city received a huge batch of vote-by-mail ballots – for the election the day before. The Daily Herald has more:

Vote by mail has given new impetus to the Postal Service slogan, “the mail must get through.”

For several hundred primary election ballots in Orem, that was not the case. Nearly 1,300 ballots that were stamped and dated Aug. 10 — the final day for ballots to be postmarked and still be counted — were delivered Wednesday morning to the city recorder’s office.

The late delivery is thanks to some miscommunication at the Shadow Mountain Post Office in southeast Orem. The person in charge reportedly took the day off Tuesday, and neglected to pass on the information that vote-by-mail ballots should be delivered to the city immediately.

With the postal processing center now in Salt Lake City rather than Provo, all mail, even within the city, must go through Salt Lake before coming back to Orem. That’s exactly what happened, according to Donna Weaver, city recorder.

The good news is that, unlike some other states, Utah allows late-arriving ballots postmarked on or before Election Day to count.

It isn’t clear what effect the big batch of ballots will have on the outcome, though it will certainly affect the election office’s workload:

Boyle said Lehi officials don’t anticipate the new batch of ballots will change the results of the election.

However, the wait could be excruciating for Orem candidates who are now tightly bunched. That is not what the city, nor council candidates, wanted — particularly Claude Richards and Lorne Grierson, who are just 298 votes apart.

Weaver said those two are likely the only ones who will be affected in the vote to push six candidates through to the Nov. 3 general election.

The question on whether the city could just add the new numbers to the current count or have to wait until the official canvass is taken went all the way to the Lt. Governor’s office Wednesday.

“The election isn’t final until the 25th with the canvass,” Weaver said.

According to state law, the ballots will have to be added during the canvass.

Orem has 47,000 registered voters. It won’t be clear how many actually voted for the next two weeks.

“In some regard, the amount of ballots we have received in the last two days has made us victims of our own success,” said Steven Downs, city spokesman. “When your voter turnout triples, it takes a lot more time to count ballots.”

I have three takeaways from this story:

1. Reports like this highlight the impact that changes at the Postal Service – in particular, reductions and/or relocations of postal processing centers – can have on vote-by-mail elections. One major impetus for California’s adoption of a “postmark rule” last year was concern about late-arriving ballots caused by increased transit time for all mail, especially in less-populated counties.

2. The USPS has got to find a way – training, design, whatever – to stress to personnel (especially carriers) the importance of timely delivery of ballots.

3. If you are a jurisdiction expecting mail ballots, it is an absolute necessity to add coordination with your local post office to your pre-Election Day checklist. In some states, late arriving ballots are useless and no better than junk mail. Making sure that doesn’t happen needs to be added to the list of Priority Ones.

Utah is increasing its commitment to vote-by-mail – here’s hoping this case is just an unfortunate incident rather than a coming attraction of problems later this year and in the future.

Which will it be? Stay tuned …

5 Comments on "Please, Mr. Postman: Orem, UT Gets 1,270 Mail Ballots Delivered Late"

  1. Douglas Kellner | August 14, 2015 at 3:12 pm | Reply

    The Postal Service is part of the “voting system” when it is transmitting voted ballots to the election authority. Both election administrators and voting integrity advocates must pay much greater attention to ballot security issues when such a large portion of the vote is conducted through the mail.

    While late delivery of ballots can be addressed by counting ballots delivered after election day, how do we safeguard against ballots that are intercepted and never delivered? How do we audit the mail delivery process?

    Douglas A. Kellner
    Co-Chair, New York State Board of Elections

  2. Great suggestion there Douglas.

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