USPS and COVID-19 protocol may cause delayed votes

Graphic+illustration+by+Ria+Phelan.

Graphic illustration by Ria Phelan.

Ria Phelan

With differing social distancing restrictions across the nation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the turnout for in-person voting this November may be lower than in previous years. President Donald Trump’s attempt to discourage mail-in voting and block federal funding for the United States Postal Service (USPS) has spurred many Democratic states to fight to preserve the USPS, which is necessary to deliver the increased number of mail-in ballots for this election.

Since the start of the pandemic, USPS has lost 37 percent of its revenue. This was primarily the result of a new protocol implemented due to COVID-19 which stopped workers from sorting mail as efficiently. This took a toll on their operations and affected those who rely on their service as well, because the USPS’s financial losses have made it difficult for them to provide the same quality of service to patrons, resulting in delays in mail and increased shipping costs.

All election mail must be labeled as first class in order to ensure that ballots will be shipped faster, so that they will be counted in time. Unfortunately, because of their revenue loss, the USPS is currently unable to provide first class shipping services for all of the ballots that will soon flood their system. To combat the issue, the USPS applied for a grant from the federal government to aid their effort to provide mail-in voting. 

However, Trump has had a different view on whether mail-in ballots should be used due to his doubts over their legitimacy. Because of his belief that mail-in ballots increases the likelihood of voter fraud, he blocked access to the USPS’ $10 billion line of credit through an executive order and encouraged them to raise shipping costs by four times to generate the money needed to provide national mail-in voting services instead. 

Voter fraud, although a serious fear for many Americans, is not as common as many may think.

“If you look at the statistics, there’s no real fraud and mail in ballots that we know of,” junior Ian Chen said.  “A lot of the states, including California, Washington and Oregon, do the voting entirely by mail. They don’t really have many polling locations.” 

USPS Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, appointed by President Trump in May 2020, tried making additional changes to the system that discouraged the use of the mail-in voting system. DeJoy refused to pay overtime salaries to workers and dismantled sorting machines, slowing the service overall. The prospect of having reduced postal workers heightened fears from voters that their ballots would not be received in time to count in the election.

The USPS is not the only issue that raises concern for ballots. COVID-19 protocol requires a wait period of a few days in which the ballots remain untouched to lower the chance of spreading the virus through contaminated papers. Having ballots sit for a few days may cause delays in counting as well as receiving the ballot. 

Santa Clara County (SCC), along with most of California and a number of other states, were unhappy with the changes made by DeJoy. After winning a federal lawsuit against the USPS’s actions, most changes were reversed in California. Although there are still delays due to COVID-19 protocol for disinfecting mail, there is more hope for a reliable and timely system for mailed ballots in this election.

California and SCC have already set up a system for mail-in ballots that accommodates all voters. Starting October 2020, every registered voter will be mailed a ballot regardless of whether they choose to vote in-person, vote by mail or abstain from voting. SCC will also be setting up multiple drop-off locations for voters who choose not to mail their vote. These measures allow voters to social distance and be sure that their ballots will be received on time. 

 There are additional concerns with mail-in voting, such as concerns with human error from voters. 

“One of the biggest problems with mail in ballots isn’t voter fraud, it’s mistakes made by voters like not signing it or completing the form incorrectly,” U.S. Government and Politics Teacher David Pugh said. “There are measures in place when people vote in person to make sure they fill out their ballot correctly.” 

Due to California’s Voter’s Choice Act, which allows all eligible voters to receive mailed ballots, voters in the state can feel more secure with their accessibility to the polls. However, many other states are still deciding how they will conduct voting by mail and whether they are willing to pay for each resident’s mail ballot shipping fee. President Trump still opposes voting by mail, but the resistance from many states has assured citizens that voting by mail will still be fair and feasible in this election.

In SCC, polling and drop off locations can be found on the county’s website. In Cupertino, two drop-off locations will be at Cupertino City Hall and De Anza College. As a county, SCC has made sure voters get as many options as possible to ensure their ballot is received. 

“I trust the Cupertino Post Office; however, country-wise there can still be some issues as other states figure out their ballot system,” Pugh said. 

Regardless of whether election mail is classified as first-class for priority shipping, it is highly advisable for voters everywhere to get their ballots in as soon as possible. With delays still present in the USPS’s delivery system, the sooner ballots are mailed, the better.