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How The Postal Service Is Gearing Up For Mail-In Voting


Absentee ballots for the upcoming November election have already been mailed to voters in North Carolina, and voters in about two dozen more states can expect theirs in the coming weeks. A record number of Americans are expected to cast their ballots by mail this year due to the pandemic. NPR's Brian Naylor reports on how the Postal Service is gearing up.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Postmaster General Louis DeJoy pledged to senators last month that the agency he heads is, in his words, capable and committed to delivering the nation's election mail fully and on time. Some 37% of Americans cited in a recent survey say they plan to cast their ballots by mail this year. Amber McReynolds, who directs the National Vote at Home Institute, says that shouldn't stretch the capacity of the Postal Service.

AMBER MCREYNOLDS: They process over 400 million pieces of mail a day. There's not even half of that many voters in the country. So even if every single voter requested a mail ballot, that would essentially add a little bit of capacity. And that would all mean that that would have to be returned on one day, which we also know doesn't happen.

NAYLOR: The Postal Service has begun preparing for the election mail influx. Ron Stroman, the former No. 2 at the agency, says much of that preparation involves training postal workers.

RON STROMAN: It's a very intense training regimen to make sure that the employees who are going to handle election mail understand all of the processes that are required and all of the practices that have been put into place so that they can officially move and process election mail.

NAYLOR: Practices such as making sure all ballots receive a postmark and are tagged to make sure they receive special attention. Upon becoming postmaster general, DeJoy instituted cost-cutting changes at the agency, decreeing that late-arriving mail be left behind rather than using additional trucks. In addition, some mail-sorting equipment deemed surplus was removed from service.

Stroman, who stepped down from the Postal Service after DeJoy took over, says while there is enough capacity at most postal facilities to handle more mail, there could be some problems at specific locations where, for example, only a single sorting machine remains in place.

STROMAN: You have no backup. And it may take hours, it could take days to fix that. And if that happens in the middle of an election, what is the impact on the election?

NAYLOR: DeJoy established an election mail task force, which met late last month. Among its members is Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who says she's concerned about actions taken in her state by the Postal Service, including the removal of 26 mail-sorting machines.

JOCELYN BENSON: The changes themselves and the messaging around that, the press coverage of it and all the controversy has created a scenario where there's confusion among voters about the reliability of what previously was a - seen as a reliable way of voting this fall.

NAYLOR: Benson says she hopes the Postal Service will help restore voters' faith in the reliability of their operations as the election approaches.

Brian Naylor, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.