With Election Day less than a week away, and delays persisting at the USPS, voters should drop off their mail-in ballots in person or vote early instead, according to elections experts.
Voters that are still planning on mailing in their ballot should not use the Postal Service to vote. A chorus of voting experts, politicians, candidates, and former government officials are all urging voters to drop off their ballots at approved locations or to vote early in person.
Mail delays in some parts of the United States, plus varying rules on when absentee ballots need to be postmarked or received, mean that the mail is no longer the best option for making sure your ballot is counted. The Supreme Court recently ruled that Wisconsin can only accept mail-in ballots until 8 p.m. on Election Day—a departure from earlier rules in the states. The decision makes similar deadlines likely in other states across the country.
As Election Day draws nearer, voters can ensure that their vote is tallied by dropping off absentee or mail-in ballots in person at a designated polling place, elections office, or official ballot drop box. Voters who requested mail-in or absentee ballots can also choose to vote in person in most locations, though procedures vary (if you’d like to vote in person instead, consult COURIER’s guide here).
The United States Postal Service had recommended that all voters mailing ballots do so no later than Tuesday, Oct. 27, which would have allowed for one week of processing. However, concerns over mail delays have persisted for months—and are continuing. Nationally, only 85% of all first-class mail (which includes election mail) was delivered on time the week of Oct. 16.
The Washington Post reported that certain parts of key swing states are having even more significant mail delivery issues, as 17 postal districts representing 10 battleground states are encountering similarly slow delivery times.
In Detroit, only 71% of first-class mail was delivered on time for the week ending Oct. 9, according to data analyzed by The Washington Post. Delivery times are a bit better, but still too slow, in regions of battleground states like Wisconsin, Florida, and Georgia. Mail has only been delivered on time in the low to mid 80% range in parts of those states.
Election administrators, voting advocates, and government officials are all echoing the USPS’ suggestion.
Michigan’s Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has been recommending absentee voters drop off ballots at their local clerk’s office or drop box since Oct. 19. Former Attorney General Eric Holder also suggested that people vote in person or use a drop box via Twitter after the Supreme Court ruling on Wisconsin.
Although most state deadlines for mail-in ballots fall on Election Day, several states allow for ballots to be counted if they are postmarked by Election Day and received in a certain amount of time (up to seven days for Minnesota and 14 days for Illinois). Additionally, Postal Service representatives have said that advancing election mail is their number one priority before and well past Nov. 3.
Still, concerns persist, and the safest bet is to drop off ballots in person or vote early in person.
The USA TODAY Network and the University of Maryland’s Howard Center for Investigative Journalism sent 64 letters and packages over short distances within battleground states as part of a tracking effort. Results were erratic enough to show cause for alarm. They found that most problems occurred in Michigan, where six of 15 envelopes took a week or more to arrive.
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Mail-in ballots arriving past the deadline is a reason many are rejected. Fortunately, voters don’t need to overnight their absentee ballot. While exact protocols vary by state, voters with an absentee or mail-in ballot will be able to vote early or on Election Day by dropping off their absentee ballot at a designated polling place or official ballot drop box, casting a provisional ballot, or having their mail-in ballot voided in some way and receiving a regular ballot.
Early voting lines have been long in many locations, though this is largely due to record turnout and social distancing protocols. However, while early voting lines in states like New York were sometimes incredibly long this week, those with absentee ballots were able to skip the line to drop off their absentee ballot.
Voters will need to check with their local election office to see specific rules and check where they can drop off their ballot if they’ve already requested one.