Voters must believe in a Post Office that can deliver our votes by Election Day
Remember the good old days when the Post Office was just considered part of everyday life in America? Mail came regularly, delivered by friendly postal workers whose biggest concern was watching out for the occasional barking dog.
Today, mail delivery is thought of very differently. Beginning in 2020, mail delivery changed direction under new leadership, and delays and lost mail had the country in an uproar. Although there has been spotty improvement, service problems have continued, including in certain parts of Baltimore County.
What does that have to do with our upcoming election? In truth, a well-run postal system is critical for voter confidence in mail in voting—services that are bound to be needed in Maryland for upcoming primary and general elections.
Voting rights organizations filed lawsuits over the service changes before the 2020 election, such as the August 2020 NAACP suit against the Post Office alleging that recent slowdowns in mail delivery could have grave consequences for Americans’ right to vote. The LWVUS, the National Urban League, and Common Cause also sued the Post Office citing similar concerns. In response, the Postal System agreed to postpone further changes and to prioritize ballots through the 2020 election.
All fixed? Well, the first test was in Virginia’s Governor’s race where problems with ballot delivery were again noted. The Virginia Democrat Party sued the Postal System in October 2021 over concerns that up to 25% of requested mail in ballots in three counties had still not been received. Claims were denied by the postal service. The lawsuit was quickly settled, with the Postal Service agreeing to prioritize ballots, apply correct postmarks, and do daily sweeps at all post offices to ensure delivery.
In Baltimore, problems with regular delivery and lost mail never resolved. Constituent complaints in Maryland’s Congregational 2nd and 7th Districts caught the attention of media and political leaders and in May 2021, Congressmen Ruppersberger and Mfume formally requested and were granted a full audit of affected areas. Nine post office sites were reviewed based on congressional asks, six in Baltimore County and three in Baltimore City. Baltimore County Zip Codes reviewed include 21221, 21222, 21234, 21220, 21237, 21286, and covered the period October 4, 2019, to July 2, 2021.
The results, published in November 2021, were alarming. Significant delays and missing mail were well above the national average. Nearly a million pieces of mail were found languishing in the post office storage area, rating it only marginally better than one other postal district nationally. Only packages were given priority, deemed more important than first-class mail. Problems with staffing, training, proper scanning, and hiring were also noted. A corrective action plan was put in place that included new management, proper training and hiring levels. Though voting procedures were not addressed, it’s good to remember that ballots are considered first class mail.
There is some good news. The NAACP announced the resolution of its original lawsuit in December 2021. Under the settlement, the USPS said it anticipates enacting policies and practices during the 2022 midterms that are like the “extraordinary measures” used during the November 2020 general election. Also, the USPS will provide the NAACP with weekly service performance scores for first class and standard mail for the six weeks before and one week after the November 2022 and 2024 general elections.
From past experiences, it is clear local postal performance bears watching. First class mail must be tracked as priority if voting material is to get out and be returned according to election law. Election officials cannot do this all by themselves. If we want a postal delivery system that will deliver our ballots reliably and on time, we must fight for it. The LWVBCo will continue to monitor this issue and reach out to Maryland congressional offices asking for updates. We also ask that you, League member, write to your congressmen/senators and ask for a written plan for mail performance and whether a ballot handling plan is in place. For a list of elected officials’ contact information, visit our website’s resource page at www.lwvbaltimorecounty.org/resourcesto access the brochure, 2021 Your Elected Officials. Together we can work to affect change.