USPS Says it Delivered More than 136 Million Ballots During the 2020 Election Cycle

January 22, 2021 by Dan McCue
Members of the Allegheny County Return Board process the remaining absentee and mail-in Allegheny County ballots, Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020, on the North Side in Pittsburgh. (Steve Mellon/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)

WASHINGTON – More than 136 million ballots passed through U.S. Postal Service facilities and were delivered to state election officials during the 2020 election cycle, a new report from the USPS says.

The data includes mail-in ballots sent in by voters in the Georgia Senate Run-off election on Jan. 5.

According to the Post Office, on average, it took 1.6 days for ballots to go from voters to election officials during the general election and 1.9 days for the Georgia Run-off election.

The full report can be found here.

“Throughout the 2020 election, the Postal Service faced unprecedented challenges, but the commitment of our 644,000 men and women to deliver the nation’s ballots never wavered even in the face of the pandemic,” said Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump appointee who was often a lightning rod for criticism during the election process.

At one point last fall DeJoy actually argued in federal court that delivery delays during an election can’t be unlawful, because the Constitution doesn’t guarantee states any particular level of service when it comes to mail-in ballots.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan in Washington, D.C. ultimately rejected that assertion and ordered the Trump administration not to implement policy changes that could delay mail delivery for voters in the November elections.

Sullivan’s preliminary injunction came in a case led by New York Attorney General Letitia James.

On Thursday, Dejoy struck a markedly different tone than he had in court or before Congress last year, saying, “We take great pride in the Postal Service’s performance which is thanks to our hard-working employees who went to extraordinary lengths to fulfill our public service mission, meet the public’s high expectations and uphold the Postal Service’s promise to deliver the nation’s Election Mail securely and in a timely manner.”

When it comes to the general election, the report says the Postal Service delivered at least 135 million ballots, including both blank ballots delivered to voters and completed ballots returned to election officials.

It notes, however, that the actual number of ballots moving through the system may be markedly higher because the reported statistic includes only those ballots that were properly identified as ballots using the correct electronic identifiers, and does not include “many of the ballots that the Postal Service diverted from its processing network or otherwise handled outside of normal processes in an effort to accelerate delivery.”

Further, the Postal Services maintains that 99.89% of identified ballots mailed after Sept. 4 were delivered within seven days, consistent with the Postal Service’s recommendation to voters.

“The overwhelming majority of ballots were delivered in far less time than that,” the Postal Service says. “Specifically, based on internal processing scores, 97.9% of ballots mailed from voters to election officials were delivered within three days, and 99.7% were delivered within five days.”

While the average delivery time for First-Class Mail, the class of mail by which nearly all ballots from voters are mailed, was 2.5 days in October, ballots generally traveled even faster, the report says.

On average, the Postal Service delivered ballots from election officials to voters in 2.1 days and ballots from voters to election officials in 1.6 days, the postal service claims.

In addition to this, the Postal Service says it handled about 4.6 billion pieces of police and election mail in 2020 — a 114% increase above the 2016 election cycle.

As for the Georgia Senate Run-off elections, the postal service says it delivered at least 1.1 million ballots, including both blank ballots delivered from election officials to voters and completed ballots returning from voters to election officials.

Overall, the report says, 99.42% of identified ballots mailed from voters were delivered in seven days or less, with the majority of ballots being delivered in far less time than that.

“Specifically, based on internal processing scores, 92.9% of ballots mailed from voters to election officials were delivered within three days, and 98.5% of ballots mailed from voters were delivered within five days,” the report says.

“On average, the Postal Service delivered ballots from election officials to voters in 3.4 days and ballots from voters to election officials in 1.9 days,” it adds.

As interesting as the statistics are, the portion of the report that is sure to inspire the most conversation is its description of the changing postal landscape and the election controversies that dominated the 2020 election cycle.

In short, it reads like DeJoy’s final response to his many critics during the election.

The Postal Service, the report says, was planning for a modest increase in mail-in ballots when suddenly all of its plans were upended by the coronavirus outbreak.

“By early 2020, the Postal Service was well into the process of implementing its regular election mail preparedness efforts, which are robust and have proven effective,” the report says.

“Starting in March, it became increasingly clear that the Postal Service’s preparation for the 2020 election would require additional resources, planning and outreach. The COVID-19 pandemic, and the increased demand for and availability of mail-in voting options, caused the Postal Service to rethink and dramatically expand its overall approach,” it continues.

The Postal Service says it responded to the crisis “by intensifying its outreach efforts so that election officials … could make informed decisions on using the mail and know what to expect from the Postal Service.”

Postal officials also redoubled their efforts to reach out to political and election mail coordinators “to discuss concerns and to clarify recommendations on mail-preparation best practices, payment options, and delivery standards,” the report says.

Despite these efforts — and the fact the USPS had “no control over the extent to which elections should rely on mail-in voting” — the Postal Services says it found itself “in the middle of an increasingly heated partisan tug-of-war.

“This dispute over the Postal Service and mail-in voting only intensified when Louis DeJoy took office on June 15, 2020, as the Postal Service’s 75th Postmaster General,” the report says.

“Suddenly, seemingly everything concerning the Postal Service was viewed through a partisan lens. Routine business decisions – such as the removal or relocation of sorting machines and collection boxes – were perceived as part of an effort to make voting by mail more difficult or less efficient …. further, the Postal Service was accused, inaccurately, of banning overtime and cutting back hours in post offices,” it continues.

“Even the letters to election officials that the general counsel wrote in May and July were perceived not as offering common-sense guidance on how the mail works or as identifying persistent structural inconsistencies between state election deadlines and longstanding Postal Service delivery standards, but as some kind of warning that the Postal Service was planning to slow down mail delivery for the election several months later.”

The Postal Service does acknowledge that many facilities reported delayed volumes over the summer and fall months, and the agency experienced service declines over this period.

It says many of these issues were directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic, which significantly reduced employee availability.

In the face of this, the report says, the Postal Service continued to make structural improvements and craft policies and procedures to address issues as they arose.

It was at this time, the report says, that the USPS was “confronted with one more hurdle: lawsuits in a variety of federal courts.”

“These suits were largely premised on, at worst, a baseless assertion that the postmaster general was intentionally slowing down the mail to interfere with the election, or, at best, the unsupported notion that the Postal Service was unwilling or unable to efficiently deliver the nation’s election mail,” the report says.

Ultimately, four different courts issued nationwide preliminary injunctions in seven different cases.

“While the preliminary injunctions that these lawsuits prompted were largely consistent with the Postal Service’s practices and policies, they required the Postal Service to generate and produce data and reports, to certify compliance with existing policies, and to make postal officials available for depositions and other discovery demands,” the report says.

“The Postal Service complied with these orders, but they were undoubtedly a distraction for the organization, requiring the diversion of resources and keeping critical postal leadership from their primary duty of ensuring that the nation’s election mail was being handled expeditiously.

“Despite the significant obstacles it faced throughout the year, and despite persistent criticism and skepticism from various sources, the Postal Service served the American public well in the 2020 election, and effectively handled the dramatic increase in election mail volume,” the report concludes.

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