By Brandon Martin
With the November election less than two months away, officials are scrambling to address challenges that include mail delays and staffing shortages at the polls – all as new voting laws that took effect July 1 come into play.
With that record number of participants, the prospect of returning ballots via the United States Postal Service (USPS) is prompting concerns.
U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Richmond, recently held a virtual meeting to discuss challenges with the USPS and offered his opinion about the reason for recent delays in deliveries.
According to Kaine, the new postmaster “is unique in that he didn’t have any experience in postal operations before he was appointed to take over this position. He began to implement a series of changes this summer, disabling some mail sorting equipment, removing a number of mailboxes around the country, removing senior staff at the post office who had years and years of experience in postal delivery.”
Kaine also noted that a decision by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy could affect voter participation by charging higher costs for postage on absentee ballots.
“In a manner that I found highly troubling,” Kaine said state elections boards were told “that they would no longer be able to use a low-cost, essentially non-profit postage rate for the delivery of absentee ballots.”
He said it also was suggested “that if they wanted to be sure that absentee ballots were received, they would need to come up with the money for first-class postage. That’s hard to do with just a few months advance notice when the budgets for these agencies are already set.”
Kaine said that when the Senate reconvenes, two major priorities need to be addressed:
The first is attempting to pass a fifth legislative package for the coronavirus to provide funds to help working people and small businesses. The second priority, Kaine said, is “the guarantee of continuity for post office operations for a whole series of reasons.”
While the election is one reason for expediency on the postal issue, many constituents on the Zoom call detailed personal experiences and reasons for expediency, including delivery of medications, receipt of Social Security checks and business-related items.
Although not on the call, Kaine also read a letter that he said was written by Colleen Wallace, of Stuart, to detail her trouble with the post office.
“My business does most of its shipping by mail and we are hearing from our customers that their deliveries are not showing up on time,” Kaine said as he read the letter. “I’m a senior citizen with multiple health conditions that make it desirable for me to vote by mail. I want to know that my ballot isn’t going to be deliberately held up or mysteriously disappear.”
Kaine said to avoid that pitfall, voters “can ask for your ballot by mail and then go drop it off in person. You can certainly drop it off at the Registrar’s Office, but some jurisdictions are setting up multiple drop off sites.”
U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Alexandria, also has joined an effort to address the shortage in postal workers this election.
“Across the country, election officials have raised the possibility that many experienced poll workers – who are primarily older than age 60 and at a higher risk from coronavirus – will opt to remain at home this year. We saw early signs of this during primary elections held nationwide earlier this spring and summer, with reduced polling locations in many states as a result of the public health emergency,” Warner said.
During National Poll Worker Recruitment Day, Warner urged the administrative bodies of each state’s Continuing Legal Education (CLE) system to allow lawyers to volunteer as poll workers on Election Day in exchange for CLE credits, which are required professional education for attorneys, who must earn these credits after their initial admission to the bar.
“Well-trained poll workers are critical to ensuring the secure and effective completion of this year’s elections. Without an adequate number of poll workers during the primaries earlier this year, many states were forced to close polling locations leading to long lines and undoubtedly disenfranchising voters. With much higher turnout expected for this year’s general election, these challenges will be magnified. This impending shortage demands innovative solutions and should serve as a call to service,” he added.