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Postal Service Delivered Vast Majority Of Mail Ballots On Time, Report Finds

Pallets filled with Washington and Oregon mail-in ballots fill an unloading area at a U.S. Postal Service processing and distribution center on Oct. 14, 2020, in Portland, Ore.
Nathan Howard
Getty Images
Pallets filled with Washington and Oregon mail-in ballots fill an unloading area at a U.S. Postal Service processing and distribution center on Oct. 14, 2020, in Portland, Ore.

As Americans continue to complain of late-arriving bills, birthday cards and other deliveries, there has been one bright spot in the U.S. Postal Service's performance in recent months: the 2020 election. The vast majority of mail-in ballots sent during the election arrived on time, according to a report by the Postal Service's inspector general.

The report says the Postal Service processed almost 134 million pieces of election mail — ballots and voter registration materials — sent to and by voters from Sept. 1 through Nov. 3. Of that, 93.8% was delivered on time to meet the agency's service standard for first class mail of two to five days.

That's an increase of 11% from the 2018 midterm elections. It's also, the inspector general noted, 5.6% better than on-time delivery rates for all first class mail, a standard the Postal Service has not met for five years. The Post Office's goal for on-time delivery of first class mail is 96%.

Mail advertisements for candidates and issues fared slightly worse, being delivered on time 91.9% of the time, a decrease of 3% from 2018.

The coronavirus pandemic led many voters to cast their ballots by mail or vote early in person in some states using drop-off boxes.

The report credited the Postal Service for implementing "extraordinary measures to accelerate the delivery of ballots to ensure they were included in the election process."

"This included expedited delivery of ballots through Express Mail and postmarking and sorting ballots for local delivery at delivery units, rather than sending them to mail processing facilities," the report said.

Noted in the inspector general's report was a late-September court order requiring the Postal Service to take such actions, although it said the Postal Service "has historically processed Election Mail in line with First‑Class Mail delivery standards as election day draws nearer." Other courts ordered the Postal Service to reverse or put on hold planned service reductions, including the removal of some sorting machines and blue mail boxes in some cities.

The report says the Postal Service "leveraged high-cost efforts such as extra transportation and overtime to improve delivery performance."

It found fault with communications about election mail process changes with local mail-handling managers, which it said risked delaying some election mail, and recommended the Postal Service issue clear guidance about those procedures in future elections.

Some 159.6 million ballots were counted in the 2020 election, according to the U.S. Elections Project.

Findings from a new study from researchers at Stanford University that voting by mail in Texas had a "very muted" effect on turnout and did not favor Democrats over Republicans, counter to the conventional wisdom. Still, several states are moving to limit mail-in balloting, while others, including Kentucky, are drawing broad support for expanding voting access.

Former President Donald Trump, who attacked voting by mail throughout the presidential campaign, recently requested a mail ballot for local elections in Palm Beach, Fla., where he now resides. He also voted by mail in the 2020 election.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.
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