Founded in 1775, and made an official department in 1792, the United States Postal Service was the internet before the internet.
But now, as a global pandemic coincides with the most critical national election in generations, the Postal Service finds itself under attack with a new postmaster general slashing budgets and implementing policies, like no overtime and requiring sorting mail by hand, that are affecting service to your home.
“We have veterans not getting prescription medications that they need, seniors not getting their medications, people not getting their unemployment checks on time,” said Rep. Andy Kim. “There’s certainly a concern as well about what will happen when it comes to mail-in ballots for Election Day.”
With New Jersey likely headed for a general election hybrid of vote-by-mail ballots and in-person polling sites, the Postal Service could have to handle almost 7 million ballots in November. That has county clerks, like Mary Melfi, concerned.
“I mean, today, even today, I’m still getting ballots back from the primary. I mean a couple of weeks ago, I got a ballot back from the 2018 election,” the Hunterdon County clerk said.
Usually, First Class mail takes five days to get to where it’s going. But bulk mail can take longer. Generally, election mail is treated like First Class mail at the bulk mail rate.
“This past election they told us that if we didn’t pay for First Class postage, our mail would not be delivered with priority, despite the fact that it was election mail,” Mercer County Clerk Paula Sollami-Covello said. “We all were all very concerned because that’s a lot of money for taxpayers to have to pay if we have to go from 10 cents per piece to 41 cents per piece.”
The difference? If you mail 7 million ballots at 10 cents a piece the cost is $700,000. The same amount of pieces at 41 cents a piece? $2.8 million.
But one thing everyone that NJTV News talked to said was an excellent alternative to mail-in ballots is the drop box, where voters can skip the mail service altogether.
“That was one of the best things about this election because people loved those drop boxes. They knew that those ballots would be picked up by elections officials and go directly to the election officials to be counted,” Sollami-Covello said.
That’s what Jersey City resident Kilian Strong plans to do in November. He said his ballot, which he mailed July 3, three days before the July primary, didn’t make it until July 15. Even with an extended seven-day deadline it was too late to be counted.
“Unless there’s some kind of unprecedented change that happens before November, I’ll be using the drop box ballot method to vote,” he said. “Not a lot of people know about that option. It’s not widely communicated, and also I’m not sure that it’s widely accessible enough.”
Clerks say they’ll ask the state or the county to make more drop boxes available in November. Meanwhile, Congress is scheduled to hear from the postmaster general next month. Like everything else in the COVID-era, voting is going to be harder than it used to be, so you’re really going to have to want it.