The United States Postal Service warned election officials in Pennsylvania, a crucial swing state in the 2020 election, that ballots cast according to state deadlines may still “not be returned by mail in time to be counted.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer first reported the letter, dated July 29, on Thursday. In response to the USPS warning, state election officials have asked the state’s supreme court to allow them to count ballots received up to three days after Election Day — as long as there’s no evidence they were actually mailed late.
In his letter to Pennsylvania’s top election official, USPS General Counsel and Executive Vice President Thomas Marshall told the state that “under our reading of Pennsylvania’s election laws, certain deadlines for requesting and casting mail-ballots are incongruous with the Postal Service’s delivery standards.”
The state cited the USPS warning in a filing dropping its opposition to certain aspects of a lawsuit from a Democratic super PAC that seeks to relax the ballot-counting timeline.
“The Postal Service’s announcement represents a significant change to the outlook for voting by mail in the general election,” the state’s filing read, adding: “[P]rior to Mr. Marshall’s letter, the Postal Service had not indicated the likelihood of widespread, continuing, multiple-day mail-delivery delays presenting an overwhelming, statewide risk of disenfranchisement for significant numbers of voters utilizing mail-in ballots.”
“Recent reports have revealed that the United States Postal Service, already strained by the COVID-19 pandemic, has implemented certain changes to its internal protocols and procedures that have resulted in widespread, multiple-day delays in mail delivery,” the state told the court separately. “The recent letter by the Postal Service’s General Counsel makes the threat to Pennsylvanian’s right to vote unmistakably clear and concrete.”
At issue are the state’s mail-in voting deadlines — and the Postal Service’s recommendation that certain steps be taken days earlier than the legally required in order to account for mail delivery times.
The state, for example, has an Oct. 27 deadline for voters to apply for a mail ballot, the Inquirer noted. But the Postal Service recommended, in its letter, that Pennsylvanians apply for a mail ballot by Oct. 19.
The Postal Service also recommended that people send ballots by Oct. 27, even though the state only requires ballots be received by Election Day — though that could change with the court’s permission.
“To state it simply: voters who apply for mail-in ballots in the last week of the application period and return their completed ballot by mail will, through no fault of their own, likely be disenfranchised,” the state said.
As the Inquirer noted, court approval to count ballots that arrive after Election Day — but that were mailed on time — may delay the results in a crucial swing state.