Postal service can handle absentee ballot volume
A mail truck is seen driving through Fox Point in mid-August. A record number of Wisconsin voters are expected to vote by absentee ballot in the November election. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Despite concerns, protests over removal of mail sorting machines, other proposed changes by Trump administration’s USPS, workers say they can handle ballot volume.

This article is part of COURIER’s Your Vote 2020 hub. For more stories from each of the battleground states, along with national reporting, visit the site here.

As long as voters mail their absentee ballots back to local clerks in a timely manner, their vote is all but guaranteed to be counted, despite concerns over Trump administration US Postal Service changes meant to slow mail down, two high-ranking American Postal Workers Union members told UpNorthNews.

Sudden, unexplained changes to postal facilities across the country last month caused alarm throughout the nation as it became clear President Trump’s postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, was intentionally throttling mail service ahead of an election that’s expected to shatter mail-in voting records. 

Those efforts included ordering seven mail processing machines be removed or disconnected at the mail-sorting facility in Milwaukee, which processes a huge share of the state’s mail every day, and pegging five processing machines for removal in Green Bay. However, significant slowdowns are not expected, even as the election draws near.

“Honestly, I don’t see any problem from our end with mail-in balloting right now,” said Paul McKenna, president of the Wisconsin APWU, and president of the local Milwaukee APWU chapter. 

Just over 1 million absentee ballots have been requested in Wisconsin, according to the Wisconsin Elections Commission, and those will start being mailed to voters this week. The Milwaukee USPS facility alone can process 3 million pieces of mail per day, McKenna said. The Green Bay facility can handle well over 1.5 million pieces per day, said Kelly Heaney, president of the Northeastern Wisconsin APWU.

While machines were reduced, McKenna said the remaining sorters will be able to handle the ballot surge perfectly fine, as long as a few conditions are met: There are no more machines removed, no active machines break down, and voters promptly send their ballots in after receiving them. DeJoy bowed to pressure last month and backed off implementing further machine reductions until after the election.

“I don’t think it would be a problem, but if everybody decided to wait until the last week and we had this huge influx of mail, it could create some bottlenecks,” McKenna said. “But keep in mind, the Postal Service processes around 500 million pieces of mail per day [nationwide].”

Heney and McKenna said there will not be an issue as long as voters send the ballots back a minimum of seven days before the Nov. 3 election.

That being said, McKenna said he believes DeJoy, a fervent Trump supporter, succeeded in creating panic about the integrity of the election and the USPS’ ability to deliver ballots on time. He fears it will have a chilling effect on voter turnout, especially for those concerned about voting in-person due to COVID-19 but do not trust the mail.

“Some people, because of all this talk about the machines going out, they’re thinking twice about mailing their ballots in,” McKenna said. “I’m afraid some people won’t vote by mail because of it. I’ve had 30 years at the Post Office, and we’re gonna get that mail out.”

Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe, when asked in a Tuesday afternoon call with reporters about concerns of mail delays, stressed that voters should return absentee ballots as soon as possible. She added the Elections Commission is in regular contact with local post offices and that she does not think, based on those conversations, that there will be slowdowns.

“We have no reason to believe that to be the case,” Wolfe said.

If any voters have doubts about their ability to mail a ballot at least a week prior to Nov. 3 but still want to avoid the crowds on Election Day, they also have the option of voting early in-person at their local clerk’s office between Oct. 20 and Nov. 1, or can leave ballots in drop boxes in some cities around the state. Each clerk sets their own hours, and voters can find their local clerk’s information through this page at MyVote.WI.gov