The United States Postal Service sent a letter to Delaware’s State Election Commissioner in July that outlines mail-in voting timing and procedures that should be adopted. Below is the letter:
July 29, 2020
Honorable Anthony Albence
State Election Commissioner
905 S. Governors Avenue
Dover, DE 19904-4112
Dear Commissioner Albence: Re:
Deadlines for Mailing Ballots
With the 2020 General Election rapidly approaching, this letter follows up on my letter dated May 29, 2020, which I sent to election officials throughout the country.
That letter highlighted some key aspects of the Postal Service’s delivery processes. The purpose of this letter is to focus specifically on the deadlines for requesting and casting ballots by mail. In particular, we wanted to note that, under our reading of Delaware’s election laws, certain deadlines for requesting and casting mail-in ballots are incongruous with the Postal Service’s delivery standards. This mismatch creates a risk that ballots requested near the deadline under state law will not be returned by mail in time to be counted under your laws as we understand them.
As I stated in my May 29 letter, the two main classes of mail that are used for ballots are First-Class Mail and USPS Marketing Mail, the latter of which includes the Nonprofit postage rate. Voters must use First-Class Mail (or an expedited level of service) to mail their ballots and ballot requests, while state or local election officials may generally use either First-Class Mail or Marketing Mail
to mail blank ballots to voters. While the specific transit times for either class of mail cannot be guaranteed, and depend on factors such as a given mailpiece’s place of origin and destination, most domestic First-Class Mail is delivered 2-5 days after it is received by the Postal Service, and most domestic Marketing Mail is delivered 3-10 days after it is received. To account for these delivery
standards and to allow for contingencies (e.g., weather issues or unforeseen events), the Postal Service strongly recommends adhering to the following timeframe when using the mail to transmit ballots to domestic voters:
- Ballot requests: Where voters will both receive
and send a ballot by mail, voters should submit their ballot request early enough so that it is received by their election officials at
least 15 days before Election Day at a minimum, and preferably long before that time.
- Mailing blank ballots to voters: In responding to a ballot request, election officials should consider that the ballot needs to be in the hands of the voter so that he or she has
adequate time to complete it and put it back in the mail stream so that it can be processed and delivered by the applicable deadline. Accordingly, the Postal Service recommends that election officials use First-Class Mail to transmit blank ballots and allow 1 week for delivery to voters. Using Marketing Mail will result in slower delivery times and will increase the risk that voters will not receive their ballots in time to return them by mail.
- Mailing completed ballots to election officials: To allow enough time for ballots to be returned to election officials, domestic voters should generally mail their completed ballots at least one week before the state’s due date. So, if state law requires ballots to be returned by Election Day, voters should mail their ballots no later than Tuesday, October 27.
Under our reading of your state’s election laws, as in effect on July 27, 2020, certain state-law requirements and deadlines appear to be incompatible with the Postal Service’s delivery standards
and the recommended timeframe noted above. As a result, to the extent that the mail is used to transmit ballots to and from voters, there is a significant risk that, at least in certain circumstances,
ballots may be requested in a manner that is consistent with your election rules and returned promptly, and yet not be returned in time to be counted.
Specifically, it appears that a completed ballot must be received by Election Day to be counted. If that understanding is correct, we accordingly recommend, as noted above, that voters who choose
to mail their ballots do so no later than Tuesday, October 27. However, it further appears that state law generally permits voters to apply by mail for a ballot until the day before Election Day and
provides that ballots will be mailed to voters until 4 days before the election. If a requested ballot is transmitted to the voter by mail at or near that 4-day deadline, there is a significant risk that the ballot will not reach the voter before Election Day, and accordingly that the voter will not be able to use the ballot to cast his or her vote. Even if a voter receives a ballot before Election Day, there is a significant risk that the voter will not have sufficient time to complete and mail the completed ballot back to election officials in time for it to arrive by the state’s return deadline.
To be clear, the Postal Service is not purporting to definitively interpret the requirements of your state’s election laws, and also is not recommending that such laws be changed to accommodate the Postal Service’s delivery standards. By the same token, however, the Postal Service cannot adjust its delivery standards to accommodate the requirements of state election law. For this reason, the Postal Service asks that election officials keep the Postal Service’s delivery standards and recommendations in mind when making decisions as to the appropriate means used to send a piece
of Election Mail to voters, and when informing voters how to successfully participate in an election where they choose to use the mail. It is particularly important that voters be made aware of the
transit times for mail (including mail-in ballots) so that they can make informed decisions about whether and when to (1) request a mail-in ballot, and (2) mail a completed ballot back to election
We remain committed to sustaining the mail as a secure, efficient, and effective means to allow citizens to participate in the electoral process when election officials determine to utilize the mail as a part of their election system. Ensuring that you have an understanding of our operational capabilities and recommended timelines, and can educate voters accordingly, is important to achieving a
successful election season. Please reach out to your assigned election mail coordinator to discuss the logistics of your mailings and the services that are available as well as any questions you may
have. A list of election mail coordinators may be found on our website at:
https://about.usps.com/election-mail/politicalelection-mail-coordinators.pdf. We hope the information contained in this letter is helpful, and please let me know if you have any questions or concerns.
THOMAS J. MARSHALL
The above letter was obtained by the Washington Post and can be viewed here