Return To Sender: USPS Error Results in Returned Ballots in Loveland, CO

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Some Loveland, CO voters got a surprise recently when their mail ballots for an April 11 special election came back as undeliverable because of an error at the post office regarding the city’s post office box. The Reporter-Herald has more:

City of Loveland officials plan to send postcards to the almost 11,000 registered Ward 3 voters explaining an error that caused some ballots to be returned and how voters can mail their ballots again or drop them off to be counted.

Officials say that an error by the U.S. Postal Service didn’t properly activate the city’s post office box that was paid for, causing some voters’ ballots to be returned with a yellow sticker that states “box closed/return to sender…”

The number of ballots affected is not yet clear, but any ballots that voters sent to the city that went through the USPS sorting facility in Denver seemed to have been returned. Ballots that were mailed in February to residents living abroad were also not affected.

Apparently, the issue arose after the city closed and then reopened a P.O. Box intended for ballots:

The problem appears to be connected to a computer system at the post office in Denver. The city rents a post office box in Loveland that’s open and paid for and is receiving ballots; however, some ballots sent to that box are being returned to their senders.

“Part of the issue is we closed out our (post office) box after the last election and reopened it in December,” [acting city clerk Beverly] Walker said.

But the change order closing it may have been mistakenly left in the system.

Walker said the issue has affected only ballots that went through the sorting facility in Denver — that includes many of the ballots that were mailed from residences in Loveland but not necessarily those that were dropped off at a Loveland post office.

Unfortunately, the issue is not only creating inconvenience for voters but is also costing Loveland money: the city will be footing the bill for the postcards, estimated at over $4,600.

This is just the latest example of the concept of “no small stuff in elections” and a useful reminder that there are always potential vulnerabilities in the system outside of an election official’s control. It’s also difficult to see how the city could have tested for this problem, given that it doesn’t appear to be affecting all voters. I do wonder, however, if the office will rethink the utility of closing and reopening the box between elections going forward – ultimately, the decision may come down to the known cost of an open but underused post office box as opposed to the potential cost of remedying another problem like this. I’ll keep an eye on this one to see if there are any further developments … stay tuned!

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