SPOKANE — Washington election officials are worried that attempts to cut costs at the U.S. Postal Service could impact the November election amid growing bipartisan concerns about the agency’s ability to handle a surge of mail-in ballots across the country.
Secretary of State Kim Wyman said that Washington is preparing for a “very concerning” impact on voting.
The cause for her concern can be found in a July 31 letter to Wyman from USPS General Counsel Thomas Marshall.
Marshall’s letter warns of a “mismatch” that “creates a risk that some ballots will not be returned by mail in time to be counted.”
“Under our reading of Washington’s election laws, the vast majority of your voters should have sufficient time to receive, complete, and return their ballots by the state’s deadlines,” Marshall wrote in the letter, obtained by The Spokesman-Review through a public records request. “However, certain deadlines concerning mail-in ballots, particularly with respect to voters who register to vote or update their registration information shortly before Election Day, may be incongruous with the Postal Service’s delivery standards.”
But U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who took over the Postal Service in June, claimed Friday that ballots won’t be delayed.
“Despite any assertions to the contrary, we are not slowing down election mail or any other mail,” he told the Postal Service Board of Governors on Friday.
Marshall’s letter to Wyman offers a reminder that most first-class mail is delivered within two to five days, while most “marketing mail” takes three to 10 days to reach its destination. A USPS spokesman confirmed that these delivery times are consistent with the agency’s standards, which have not changed since 2015.
But in an interview Friday, Wyman, a Republican, said the letter sent a clear message that is forcing elections officials to change plans with the election less than three months away, and could drive up costs for the already cash-strapped state.
In Washington, voters can register or update their address up until eight days before the election. Wyman said the Postal Service has traditionally treated ballots as first-class mail, despite counties paying the lower marketing mail rate, but she said Marshall’s letter makes it clear that the state will need to pay a premium — roughly six times the usual per-envelope cost — to ensure voters receive their ballots in time.
“If they actually start enforcing those delivery times, our ballots now could take up to 10 days to be delivered,” she said. “Now we are out of the window for someone that changes their address online eight days before Election Day to be able to mail them a ballot and be certain that it’s going to be received, so this is very concerning and it may force us to direct the counties to do all of those later mailings as first-class postage.”
Aspects of the organizational shakeup DeJoy announced in a memo Friday may cause delays in Washington, according to documents obtained by The Spokesman-Review.
In a July 6 letter, USPS Seattle district manager Kenn Messenger informed union leaders that due to low mail volumes, letters and “flats” — like magazines and large envelopes — originating in Yakima, Wenatchee and Tacoma will no longer be processed in those cities, instead being rerouted to either Spokane or Seattle. A separate document indicates that sorting machines will be removed from Wenatchee on Aug. 15 and from Yakima on Aug. 22.
USPS spokesman Ernie Swanson said Friday he was “unable to confirm any concrete internal machine moves in Washington,” but Don Sneesby, president of Local 316 of the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, confirmed that he received Messenger’s letter and was aware of the planned moves, which could force workers he represents to relocate or change roles.
John Michael Wald, president of the American Postal Workers Union Tri-Cities Area Local, said there is reason to expect mailing delays when letter and flat processing stops in Wenatchee, Yakima and Tacoma. He saw a similar consolidation first hand when the USPS shut down its processing operations in Pasco — along with Everett and Olympia — in 2012.
Wald, whose union represents truck drivers as well as the clerks and technicians who run sorting machines, said that before the consolidation, local mail within the Tri-Cities area would be sorted by machines in Pasco and delivered the next day. When those machines were shut down, a letter sent from Richland to Kennewick had to be trucked to Spokane for sorting, adding at least a day to delivery.
“The impact on the quality of service, the time that it takes, is going to be even further compounded” by the Wenatchee and Yakima closures, he said, “because they’re farther from Spokane than we even are.”
Wyman said the changes at USPS don’t only impact Washingtonians, who have voted exclusively by mail since 2011. More than three-quarters of voters nationwide will be able to cast their ballots by mail in November’s general election, according to a Washington Post tracker.
President Donald Trump has tweeted, without evidence, that voting by mail will lead to “MASSIVE FRAUD” and “the most CORRUPT ELECTION in our Nation’s History,” even as GOP officials encourage mail-in voting around the country. He has also repeatedly criticized the Postal Service for its financial troubles, suggesting he may increase postage prices.
The president’s statements have raised concerns among lawmakers that DeJoy, a major Trump campaign donor, was installed to destabilize a critical government agency at a time when it is especially essential. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., met Wednesday with DeJoy about his recent changes and made their qualms public in a letter Thursday.