Delays in USPS May Hinder Elections

The financial woes of the United States Postal Service may have a negative impact on governmental elections.

The USPS is considering eliminating overnight service for first class mail to help cut costs but Postal Regulatory Commission Chairwoman Ruth Goldway told The Christian Post that delaying delivery time may impact states that rely heavily on mail-in votes for elections .

“The changes to delivery are expected to be implemented sometime in the spring, so we are reviewing any modifications the Postal Service may need to implement (in regards to elections),” Goldway said.

The USPS announced in November that it is in red ink. The bureau lost $5.1 billion in the fiscal year of 2011 and, on top of that, owes the federal government another $5.5 billion for the mandated retiree health benefit payments as required by the new healthcare overhaul. In short, the USPS is raking up drastic debts by the minute and in order to make a turnaround it must implement drastic changes. These changes are coming in the form of drastic cuts.

Along with overnight service, other cuts being considered include closing post offices and processing centers, and going from a six-day delivery service to a five-day one, dropping Saturday.

The USPS estimates that by ending Saturday mail service it would save about $3 billion annually, but its oversight agency, the Postal Regulatory Commission, puts the figure at only $1.7 billion.

The USPS must cut $20 billion by 2015 in order to begin making a profit.

PRC’s Goldway expressed concern over the cuts. She noted that states that have gone to a completely mail-in voting system are likely to be the hardest hit by these delays. If the new system poses a heavy burden on rural citizens, Goldway fears those citizens may choose to not vote at all.

Andrea Cantu-Schomus, director of communications at the Oregon Secretary of State’s office, told The Christian Post, “We are very concerned about the rural areas of our state.” Oregon does all of its voting by mail and the ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on election day in order to be valid.

“The USPS will be shutting down processing centers. This means that for a citizen in southern Oregon who wants to mail a letter to a recipient one mile down the road, the letter must pass through Portland’s processing center first. This will delay the mail drastically,” she continued.

All mail must pass through the processing centers to be sorted and post marked before it can be delivered. According to Goldway, the USPS plans to reduce the processing centers around the country by 50 percent in order to cut costs. This will save an estimated $2.1 billion.

If such delays are to occur, the Secretary of State for Oregon, Kate Brown, has asked the legislature to mail out ballots earlier so as to mitigate any burden the delay may have on individual citizens. Currently, citizens have between 14 and 18 days to vote and decide how they will turn in their ballot. However, if the mailing system requires the voter to send off the ballot earlier, then Brown has argued that the ballots should be sent to the citizen earlier.

“Usually if the ballots are mailed, citizens expect overnight delivery so they will wait until Monday to mail out their votes,” Goldway said. “If there is no overnight, Oregon will have to be much clearer about when ballots must get into the mail.”

Goldway and Cantu-Schomus said that all partners involved with the mailing and election process have been working together to come up with a way to remedy any problem that may occur.

“The Postal Service is considering ways in which it can work with the registrar and voters, and the local government in order to provide a service that is in between first class and standard for voting purposes. That way, citizens won’t have to pay that much more, as they would for first class mail and the ballot will get there sooner than with standard,” said Goldway.

“One of the things we will do is to see whether the zip codes pairs (first three digits to a zip code that defines region) reveal that the new service standard unfairly burdens rural America.” Goldway added that the PRC will monitor these pairs after the new standards go into effect and continue to think of alternative ways to fix any problems associated with rural America’s mailing system, particularly when it comes to voting.

“We are encouraging people to participate,” Goldway said, noting that citizens can go to the PRC website and give feedback about the mail system.

“We want them (citizens) to understand the process so that we can make it better.”