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Postal Service Watchdog Outlines 'Concerns' Surrounding Election Readiness

Postal workers sort, load and deliver mail at a U.S. Postal Service location last month in Los Angeles.
Kyle Grillot
AFP via Getty Images
Postal workers sort, load and deliver mail at a U.S. Postal Service location last month in Los Angeles.

The U.S. Postal Service's inspector general has outlined a number of ongoing concerns about the agency's ability to manage the influx of mailed ballots for the 2020 election — separate from the recent controversial actions by the postmaster general.

The internal watchdog said in a report that it found several potential problems in the way mail was being processed, including ballots mailed without bar code mail-tracking technology and out-of-date voter addresses.

"While the Postal Service has made progress in preparing for the 2020 general election, there are concerns surrounding integrating stakeholder processes with Postal Service processes to help ensure the timely delivery of election and political mail," the report said.

Continued the inspector general report: "Resolving these issues will require higher-level partnerships and cooperation between the Postal Service and various state officials, including secretaries of state and state election boards. Timely delivery of election and political mail is necessary to ensure the integrity of the U.S. election process."

The postal inspector general's audit took place during the May and June special and primary elections and did not include a review of controversial cost-cutting measures later implemented by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump ally and Republican megadonor.

Those changes, which lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said were harming their constituents, included reducing employee overtime hours and eliminating hundreds of postal-sorting machines. The postmaster general said the Postal Service, which has lost money for years, was in need of an "operational pivot."

Democrats specifically accused DeJoy of engaging in political sabotage meant to undercut the agency's ability to accommodate mail-in voting — a system that has been repeatedly maligned by President Trump. Trump himself votes by mail.

DeJoy, who was called to testify to Congress to defend his management of the Postal Service, eventually agreed to postpone changes to the agency until after the Nov. 3 election. DeJoy also rejected the idea that he was Trump's man at the post office sent to disrupt mailed ballots following the president's criticism.

Slight performance downturn

In the report, the postal IG office found that while the agency had made several improvements since past audits, the amount of election and political mail delivered on time in the period from April to June was down 1.7 percentage points from the same period in 2018.

The agency also found that the facilities it reviewed "did not always comply with election and political mail readiness procedures."

It cited widespread failures to complete daily self-audits of election and political mail readiness and zero adherence to the Postal Service's "operational clean sweep search checklist," which gives postal workers detailed areas to check when looking for election-related mail within the places they work.

The watchdog recommended a number of steps to improve processes, including working more closely with state and election officials and to "continue educating election officials on identified best practices to increase nationwide election and political mail readiness."

The flap in Congress over DeJoy and the expected increase in mailed ballots have renewed recommendations that voters act early to request and return mailed ballots where that is eligible, although the postmaster general said he expects the system to be able to accommodate a prospective surge in mail.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Alana Wise is a politics reporter on the Washington desk at NPR.