This new report from the US Postal Service's internal watchdog warns that late ballots, bad envelope designs, and outdated registries could jeopardize voting in November

  • The US Postal Service's inspector general released a report this week laying out vote-by-mail problems as the November election approaches.
  • The watchdog warns that ballots will be mailed too close to the election. It also details problems with ballot designs and outdated voter registries.
  • 'Mailers, election boards, and voters are likely to mail Election and Political Mail too close to an election,' the report says.
  • The audit comes as Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a longtime GOP megadonor, has been under fire for proposed cost-cutting measures at the agency.
  • This audit doesn't account for DeJoy's proposed changes, which he said he would postpone. The IG's office is investigating those changes separately.
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A new report from the US Postal Service's internal watchdog spells out several potential problems with mail-in-voting, including a warning that voters could send ballots too close to Election Day and they won't be delivered in time to get officially counted. 

Other concerns in the 33-page report from USPS Inspector General Tammy Whitcomb's office include problems with ballot envelope designs, outdated voter registries and struggles with tracking ballots. 

The stakes are high for the post office, which has been drawn into the national political debate between President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Joe Biden amid its own financial strains and an expectation that the coronavirus pandemic will spur more Americans than ever to avoid the polls and choose to vote by mail. 

"Timely delivery of Election and Political Mail is necessary to ensure the integrity of the U.S. election process," the USPS inspector general's office wrote. 

In addition to the presidential election, all 435 seats in the US House and 35 of the 100 seats in the US Senate are up for grabs around the country in November. 

Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines

The inspector general office's findings come as mail-in-ballots and the Postal Service have emerged as flashpoints heading into the election. 

Louis DeJoy, a longtime GOP megadonor, has been criticized for announcing major cost-cutting structural changes at USPS shortly after he took over as postmaster general in June. After critics complained that DeJoy's changes were aimed at limiting mail-in voting, he changed course and said he'd suspend the planned overhaul until after the election. 

Under DeJoy's direction, the USPS deactivated mail-sorting machines at processing centers across the US. DeJoy had also announced changes to overtime policy and mail collection boxes were removed. Those efforts were blamed for additional mail slowdowns around the country. 

The new report from the post office's inspector general notes that it does not examine the recent operational changes at USPS or "the significant increases in delayed mail at delivery units experienced this summer." The watchdog office is separately investigating how those planned changes will impact mail service. 

Still, the report lays out several concerns that might slow down political and election mail this fall, including the late arrival of ballots back to the local government officials tasked with tabulating the results. 

"Mailers, election boards, and voters are likely to mail Election and Political Mail too close to an election," the report says. 

During the primary election season from June 2 through Aug. 13 of this year, election boards mailed more than 1 million ballots to voters late (within seven days of an election), according to Postal Service management. 

Election boards in Kentucky and New York accounted for 60% — more than 628,000 — of the ballots sent out late to voters, the Postal Service inspector general found. 

In 11 states, more than 44,000 ballots were sent from the election boards to voters the day of or day before the state's primary election. And in Pennsylvania, 500 ballots were sent from the election board to voters the day after the election. 

More red flags: Barcodes, envelope design and outdated registration lists

Another problem could be a lack of barcodes on some ballots. There's no requirement for ballots to have barcodes, but the Postal Service and election board can't track the ballot envelopes that don't have them, the report says. Data analyzed from the 2018 midterm election showed that only 13% of election mail used barcodes. 

Voters might also get their ballots returned to them if their ballot envelopes are designed in a way that confuses sorting machines, the report says. For example, if an envelope contains more than two addresses or doesn't have the election office address included on the envelope, it might be returned to the sender. 

Outdated voter registration lists can also cause absentee ballots to be returned to election officials as undeliverable. 

"Some states only update voter address information every two years and run the risk of using outdated addresses for their registered residents who have moved," the audit found. That can cause absentee ballots to be returned to election officials as undeliverable.

For its part, the Postal Service has "frequently communicated to state election officials the importance of ballot mailpiece tracking and design, the required timeframes for processing and delivering mail, and the importance of updating voter addresses," according to the audit. 

Looking beyond 2020, the IG report concludes that there's a need to develop a mail product that better addresses the requirements associated with voting by mail for future election cycles.



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