Reports on slower mail delivery times nationwide and across Colorado since mid-summer are causing concern as more voters than ever plan to vote by post in the November 3 election to avoid exposure to the coronavirus.
But an unscientific Colorado News Collaborative experiment over the past month found little to worry about in Centennial State.
Of the 120 padded letters or envelopes sent from 24 cities and towns to 26 cities and towns, most arrived within two to four days. More than half arrived within two days, and another 31% arrived within three days.
The postal service acknowledged the nationwide delivery slowdowns in a report to Congress late last month. These slowdowns came after the new postmaster, General Louis DeJoy, former owner of a Republican megadonor trucking company, ordered limits on overtime for postal workers and the removal of some mail sorting machines.
The postal service “undertakes to deliver the electoral mail in a timely manner,” wrote a spokesperson for the agency. An Associated Press review of delivery figures obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request, however, indicated that no region of the country meets the goal of more than 95% first-class mail arriving within five days. .
The USPS did best in the experiment conducted by the Colorado newsrooms.
What we have done
On the last day of August, 96 letters were sent to 26 cities across the state, including Yuma, Wiggins, and Holyoke in the Eastern Plains; to Snowmass Village, Grand Junction, Eagle, Montrose and Steamboat Springs to the west; and in Salida, Pagosa Springs and Coaldale in the south of the state. Denver, Greeley, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins, Pueblo and Boulder were also included along the Front Range.
More than half of the mailings came from Denver, Lafayette and Lakewood. Another round of 24 mailings was sent back to Denver from cities and towns in the state between September 2-8.
The average delivery time for consignments on 31 August was approximately 2.7 days. The average delivery time for other shipping dates was 2.6 days, excluding Sundays and Labor Day. This is within the postal service’s goal of nearly all such items arriving within five days.
A padded envelope mailed by Meeker to Salida did not arrive and a letter mailed to Salida was returned to the sender in Centennial as undeliverable, even though the address was correct and four other mailings to the same address arrived within three or four days.
A summer of discontent
Over the summer, the Colorado Attorney General’s office decided to ask the Coloradans on social media how they’d been affected by the U.S. postal service slowdowns, with the expectation of perhaps a few dozen stories. Instead, they were nearly 200.
A woman from Littleton named Haley did not receive her medications for bipolar disorder, causing anxiety attacks. Zoe, an independent contractor in Denver, received payments from her clients two weeks late, which resulted in overdraft fees and a damaged credit score. A Telluride resident named Amanda who suffers from Lyme disease went three days without her treatment.
“The response we got was pretty substantial because we literally only posted a few posts on social media and then ended up getting all these people to tell their stories,” Attorney General Phil Weiser said.
“But I think we’ve only received a fraction of the complaints that are out there.”
Weiser’s office turned four of the stories into a multi-state lawsuit filed in eastern Washington. His goal was to force USPS to undo the reforms – the removal of sorting equipment, restrictions on overtime – that slowed mail distribution in July and August. The USPS had already pledged to delay its reforms until after the election, but Weiser wanted a binding court order.
And he took one. On September 17, a judge issued a preliminary injunction forcing the USPS to end “the implementation or enforcement of policy changes … that slowed mail delivery” and continue to prioritize all mail. electoral, like ballot papers, from now to November.
In the month between August 18, when DeJoy announced he would be suspending his reforms, and September 17, when a judge asked him to, mail delivery times soared, according to a massive study by a company called SnailWorks published. in the New York Times. After the improvements in late August, delivery times slowed in the first half of September. A SnailWorks spokesperson said in an email that Colorado was in line with the rest of the nation.
With ballots due out within two weeks, this is worrying for some election observers.
How mail-order ballot papers work in Colorado
Colorado began elections by mail in 2013, although several counties had conducted elections by mail before then. Only 7% of voters voted in person in 2016 and 4% did so in 2018.
While the ballots are delivered to voters via the postal service, only a quarter of voters who vote by post stamp the envelope to return it. The other 75% return the vote via personal mailboxes across the state.
And occasionally there have been problems.
Two years ago, a truck with 61,000 cards in Adams County went missing after being turned down by the postal service for not having proper papers. The ballots were handed over after the foul was discovered.
About 100 voters in Coaldale, western Fremont County, did not receive ballots in the June 30 primary election. Mark Gully, owner of Outback Fibers in Coaldale, said he didn’t get the vote until after the primaries ended.
First, he was not a fan of the mailing elections.
“I’d rather everyone go and put their vote in a box at a voting place,” Gully said. “For me this is an example of what can happen in postal voting.”
Fremont County Clerk Justin Grantham said Coaldale’s confusion was the result of improperly submitted ballot papers from Denver and people using post office boxes to receive ballots. If a person’s name is not specifically listed in the mailbox, the card is returned to the registrar’s office.
“Before then we didn’t have that problem in the presidential primary; we didn’t have that problem in the coordinated election in 2019, “Grantham said.” We didn’t have that problem in Howard; we didn’t have that problem in Hillsdale, in Cotopaxi, “three other towns in the west of the county.
Grantham noted that Fremont is using a new ballot tracking system and said his office will be alert for similar issues ahead of the November 3 general election. A recent USPS report on mail-order voting preparation cited the Colorado system for tracking ballot papers by mail as one of its best practices.
Meanwhile, at the Attorney General’s office, employees have stopped counting and collecting stories about USPS slowdowns and the problems these slowdowns have caused. Weiser, a Democrat, says he was calmed and comforted by the September 17 injunction, though he will keep an eye on DeJoy and USPS in the weeks and months to come.
“We will stay vigilant,” he said, “and we will keep up with this.”
This story was brought to you by COLab, Colorado News Collaborative, a nonprofit coalition of more than 50 newsrooms across Colorado, including The Aspen Times, working together to better serve the public. Find out more at https://colabnews.co