NALC: Cutbacks and closures threaten vote-by-mail

According to an article in The Hill, lawmakers across the country are growing increasingly concerned that the cutback of delivery standards and closure of processing facilities proposed by the Postal Service could threaten vote-by-mail.

Vote-by-mail is an increasingly popular way for Americans to cast their votes. The Election Assistance Commission estimated that, in the 2010 election, about 18 million voters voted through the mail. Vote-by-mail is an essential option for middle-class Americans because it offers voters the option to cast their votes on their own time. In these tough economic times, too many Americans have to choose between exercising their right to vote and taking precious time from their jobs and families to get to the polls.

Vote-by-mail could be threatened if the plan put out by the Postal Service to change delivery standards for first-class mail and close nearly half of the processing plants across the country is implemented. Under the new delivery standards, first-class delivery would be significantly slowed and overnight delivery of first-class mail would be eliminated. This could significantly change the voting process, forcing officials to mail out ballots earlier and making it harder for voters to return their ballots by Election Day.

Concerned about these changes, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen sent a letter to the Postal Service last week asking the agency to hold off the changes at least until after the general election in November. Bowen said that, in 2011, after three processing centers closed in the state, ballots took up to seven days to arrive at some local election offices. Bowen fears what could happen if the facilities closure plan is implemented because California is slated to lose the largest number of plants—a total of 14. This could significantly affect the ballots sent via mail, which in 2010 totaled nearly 5 million in California.

The concern about the affect on vote-by-mail of these cutbacks and closures also has reached Capitol Hill. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) expressed his concerns in a statement about the effect of closing five processing plants in the Oregon, a state where votes are cast exclusively by mail. “Closing these facilities carries many unintended consequences,” Wyden said. “It is not a risk worth taking.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has introduced S. 1853, which would address both the service standards and the closure of mail-processing facilities. His legislation would prevent the Postal Service from ending one- to three-day delivery standards for first-class mail and would make it much more difficult to close mail-processing facilities across the country. Sanders also sent a letter, signed by 27 of his fellow senators, to postal stakeholders in the Senate, expressing concern about the planned mass closure of mail-processing facilitates. The letter called for any postal legislation to protect current delivery standards for first-class mail.

To read the The Hill article, click here.

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