Despite warnings from the U.S. Postal Service about potential delays in mail-in ballots this election season, Washington state officials are assuring residents they’re not too concerned about any impact they might have on general election votes.
In a letter to state Secretary of State Kim Wyman on July 31, Thomas J. Marshall, general counsel and executive vice president of the Postal Service, said that while the majority of Washingtonians should have enough time to receive, complete and return their ballots by the election deadlines, voters who register or update their registration information too close to Election Day could risk disenfranchisement.
Marshall wrote in the letter that if voters register or change their registration information as late as eight days before the election — which is allowed under Washington state law — voters might not receive the ballot before Election Day or have enough time to complete and mail the completed ballot back in.
“To be clear, the Postal Service is not purporting to definitively interpret the requirements of your state’s election laws, and also is not recommending that such laws be changed to accommodate the Postal Service’s delivery standards,” the letter said. “By the same token, however, the Postal Service cannot adjust its delivery standards to accommodate the requirements of the state election law.”
Wyman said in a Friday statement, however, that Washington voters shouldn’t be too worried.
“In our decades-long experience with mail-in voting, we remain confident in our partnership with the U.S. Postal Service and its ability to continue delivering the same outstanding service to voters, the Office of the Secretary of State, and Washington’s 39 county election officials,” she said in the statement.
“Politicizing these administrative processes is dangerous and undermines public confidence in our elections,” Wyman added. “Washington voters should know that sending ballot material to millions of voters this fall is a routine operation of the U.S. Postal Service. Washington election officials have been working with the U.S. Postal Service for more than 20 years, and we believe we will receive the same level of quality service. Though it is imperative the agency maintain its functionality and efficiency, this volume of work is by no means unusual, and is an operation I am confident the U.S. Postal Service is sufficiently prepared to fulfill.”
The recent letter was one of many that the Postal Service sent to 46 states and the District of Columbia warning that, because of delays in mail delivery, it can’t guarantee all mail-in ballots will arrive in time to be counted, The Washington Post reported.
While a few states might only see a small percent of voters affected by the delays, the Postal Service sent 40 states more serious warnings that their voting deadlines conflicted with agency’s timelines, according to the Post. After receiving the letter from the mail service, a few states have moved deadlines to account for the delays, but many states don’t have that option.
The warnings come as the agency faces severe financial hardship, which has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. Although U.S. lawmakers have been pushing to send emergency funding to the mail service, President Donald Trump, who has spoken out against mail-in voting for months, has said he’s opposed to a bailout for the Postal Service.
On Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee during a news conference called Trump’s actions “harmful and undemocratic” and said he and state Attorney General Bob Ferguson have discussed what might be done to protect Washington’s vote-by-mail system.
In Washington, ballots for the November election will be sent to voters on Oct. 15 at a nonprofit bulk rate, which should be delivered between three and 10 days after they’re received by the Postal Service, said the statement from Wyman’s office. In order to be counted, mail-in ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 3.
As Election Day approaches, Washington counties will send out “subsequent mailings,” such as replacement ballots and ballot materials for newly registered voters via first-class mail, the statement said.
In King County, election officials also don’t have serious concerns that mail delays will affect the vote count, said county spokesperson Halei Watkins.
“It’s certainly a situation we’re continuing to monitor and continuing to be in communication with the Postal Service about,” Watkins said. “We’re feeling pretty confident about getting our voters our ballots, and getting them back in time. Of course, we never recommend putting a ballot in your mail box on Election Day itself.”
Watkins advised voters to mail their ballots the Friday before the election at the latest, adding that King County has seen some voter behavior change in the last year or two, with more people tending to vote on Election Day.
“We’re really, really hoping and doing the best we can to remind voters to get their ballot in early,” Watkins said. “There’s absolutely no reason to wait until Election Day.”
Information from The Washington Post was used in this story.