Newby’s Latest: USPS Gives (and Gets) an Election Day Zero

[Image courtesy of gathh]

My friend Brian Newby of Johnson County, KS has been busy running non-stop elections – and planning the upcoming 2015 Midwest Election Officials Conference – so we haven’t seen as many of his ElectionDiaries as usual. But a new one popped up yesterday … and it’s a doozy:

Gardner’s mail-ballot election closed yesterday [Wednesday] at noon with remarkable efficiency.

That efficiency isn’t from us, but rather the United States Postal Service.

Okay, as regular readers can guess by now, that previous sentence was in sarcasm font.

You see, Monday’s mail brought us 169 ballots.

Today’s mail brought us 79, too late to be counted.

Yesterday’s mail brought us 0.

By the way, 17 people dropped off their ballots yesterday.  But somehow, with remarkable success, every voter who wanted their ballot here by mail did so–included in Monday’s mail.

If you are scoring at home, Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday, that’s 169-0-79.

Really?

We called the post office yesterday morning at 11.  On the previous two Tuesdays, we received only 1 ballot each time (about 2,600 voted and 10,000 ballots were issued).

Nope, no ballots.

Really?

We had someone else call.

Nope.

Really?

As election administrators, what more can we do?  Demand a right to storm the post office and search for yellow envelopes?

For sake of argument, what if nothing was there and instead they were held too long at the Kansas City post office and were in a truck headed to Olathe?

We call the post office, but should we consider anything in the pipeline at the post office?  Even if it’s a postal facility in a different state?

At the very least, with postal service levels changing, jurisdictions will need to consider the use of mail-ballot elections.  Or, maybe Kansas laws should be changed to base returns based on postmarks–that would require significant change, though, because Kansas mail-ballot elections pay the postage for the voter–business reply mail.

As a starting point, I can raise the problem.

You, dear reader, in a life-imitating-life moment (there is no art to a voter not able to cast a ballot, so no art-imitating-life moment here), you are part of said awareness effort.

That’s all–fairly short for a blog post, but a powerful issue to begin considering.

Unless, of course, it seems perfectly reasonable for a three-day mail pattern to be 169, 0, 79.  Maybe ending Tuesday delivery was suggested by the postal service because there isn’t any actual mail on Tuesday. 

Somehow, I doubt it.

79 others in Gardner may wonder, too.

And just to prove that this isn’t a one-time problem, later in the day Brian shared this table from August (VBM numbers are lower because it was a polling place election):

  • Monday 3 August – 22 ballots
  • Tuesday 4 August – 4 ballots
  • Wednesday 5 August – 41 ballots
  • Monday 10 August – 75 ballots
  • Tuesday 11 August – 0 ballots
  • Wednesday 12 August – 43 ballots
  • Monday 17 August – 51 ballots
  • Tuesday 18 August – 1 ballot (election day)
  • Wednesday 19 August –27 ballots (too late)

Any other business might find a way to work around a Tuesday mail hole … but an election office (especially one without a postmark rule) just can’t. Of course, as my curmudgeonly but observant friend Paul Gronke would point out, voters should mail their ballots sooner – but with such uncertain delivery patterns it’s hard to give voters a workable deadline.

I know that the USPS is working to improve its service level despite budget cuts – but Brian’s latest is a reminder that the message isn’t getting delivered in every community.

Maybe it’s still in transit. Stay tuned.

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