All hands on deck for mail voting

All hands on deck for mail voting
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Critics of increased mail voting point to problems in a few states where mail delivery or ballot counts have been slow, notably for New York with delayed but ultimately accurate results. That is not a reason for despair but a call to action. A recent report by the inspector general addresses some of the problems and offers solutions that involve both the Postal Service and election officials. Such solutions, if enacted with urgency, could fortify the election and ensure all legitimate ballots count.

Voters should be assured the Postal Service can handle the increased mail voting, as even if all 180 million eligible Americans use it, it would account for less than 2 percent of the monthly volume. Voters should be confident that if they receive then return their ballots early, then their ballots should be counted. Voters benefit from all the Postal Service workers around the country who will treat this mail seriously and process it quickly.

The report specifically addresses election mail, defined as “any mail piece that an authorized election official creates for voters participating with the election process and includes ballots and voter registration materials.” Its audit about the readiness of the Postal Service to handle the election mail expected this fall concerned the primary races over the spring in states in all the seven regions with mail delivery from the Postal Service.

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The report contained a few troubling findings. For instance, some election mail was evidently not logged as they arrived at the facilities, and none of the seven regions had used the “operational clean sweep checklist” from the Postal Service to search for both election mail plus political mail that gets to and from candidates or committees. In one region, the inspector general found ballots after a clean sweep had been performed.

The report also contained disturbing results for election officials, as less than 14 percent of election mail had mail tracking technology, principally barcodes on the envelopes. Some boards lack funding or want to use old envelopes to save money. That holds serious risks to process the election mail in a timely manner and in the ability of the Postal Service to track the mail to ensure proper handling. Designs for certain return envelopes can also cause machines to reject ballots and return them to voters.

Voters vastly support measures that ensure that elections are conducted securely and accurately, as 72 percent of voters in a recent survey by the Campaign Legal Center and Protect Democracy back more funding. Part of that funding could be used to shore up the Postal Service. The House has passed the bill with $25 billion for the Postal Service, but the Senate has refused to come to an agreement. While the election is less than two months away, there remains time to address the funding gap.

The report found problems for Kentucky and New York, where one board left 62,000 ballots to be mailed to voters the day before the election, and with Pennsylvania, where 500 ballots were sent to voters the day after the election. In total, election boards sent out over a million ballots during the primary season within seven days of an election, and that is late by Postal Service standards even for first class mail. Despite the priority of election mail, the inspector general called this a “high risk” to voters.

It can be done well as a hotly contested primary in Massachusetts went smoothly. Proper tracking and design of election mail should be routine. The Postal Service management has confirmed to the inspector general that it “will do everything it can to deliver ballots on time” and do “more resources in the weeks before the election” to ensure a strong process. But election officials also have to do their part, while there still remains time for them to take the lessons of the report and take action.

Trevor Potter is the founder and president of the Campaign Legal Center in Washington and is a former chairman for the Federal Election Commission.