Private express carriers, including UPS, FedEx and Amazon, say they are limited in their ability to step in to deliver election ballots as the U.S. Postal Service signals it will struggle to handle the deluge of mail-in voting this fall.
There are several impediments to those private delivery services helping out with ballot delivery this fall, including a patchwork of state and local regulations.
But the concept has gained popular support – especially on social media – after the Postal Service warned 46 states plus the District of Columbia that their long-standing deadlines for requesting, returning or counting ballots were “incongruous” with mail service and that voters who send ballots in close to those deadlines may not have their votes counted. State officials have also considered asking private express carriers to assist with election mail, and urged voters to request and cast their ballots early in the run-up to the November election.
“Because of the malevolent interference by Donald Trump in the election and destruction of the United States Postal Service, we need all options on the table – private carriers, volunteers, mail carriers, more absentee ballot drop boxes, more poll workers for in-person voting – to ensure every citizen’s vote is counted,” said Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat.
The Postal Service is beset with delays because of policy changes implemented by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a former logistics executive and ally of President Trump. DeJoy banned postal workers from making extra trips to ensure on-time mail delivery and cracked down on overtime hours. Localities across the country have struggled with USPS backlogs of up to a week, hamstringing local businesses and delaying the arrival of crucial mail items, including prescription medications, Social Security checks and bills.
The Postal Service is in the process of removing 671 high-speed mail-sorting machines nationwide this month, a process that will eliminate 21.4 million items per hour worth of processing capability from the agency’s inventory. On Thursday and Friday, it began removing public collection boxes in parts of California, New York, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Montana. The agency said Friday that it would stop mailbox removals, which it said were routine, until after the election.
Trump, speaking Saturday at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., defended DeJoy’s changes, but also said, “I don’t know what he’s doing. I can only tell you he’s a very smart man.”
Private carriers said their ability to deliver ballots was dependent upon local regulations.
“Voting is one of our most important civic duties as citizens. Each state is responsible for their own rules regarding mail-in ballots and the requirements for validity vary greatly from state to state,” said UPS spokeswoman Kara Ross. “While there is no single set of rules for this, UPS always follows all applicable laws and regulations. We’d suggest speaking with state authorities who set the rules to see if they will accept a ballot if delivered by a private express carrier.”
FedEx spokesman John Scruggs said: “U.S. election absentee and mail-in ballots are predominantly handled by the U.S. Postal Service. FedEx does accept individual ballots for shipment, and we advise that customers planning to return their ballots via FedEx should closely review their state’s guidelines on absentee voting and deadlines for ballots or related election documents.”
Amazon representatives did not respond to a request for comment. (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Election experts say private carriers may even have a better handle on delivering and tracking mail items than the Postal Service, though turning to the private sector so soon before an election could create more problems than solutions.
“It’s unrealistic to ask the private sector 80 days before an election to take on new roles they’ve never had to take on before,” said David Becker, executive director of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation & Research. “One of the big things that occurs in election administration is that even changes that are good, if they’re made too close to an election they can have a negative impact and a cost is paid usually in voter confusion.”
Some changes are necessary because of the coronavirus pandemic, he said, such as consolidating polling places and extending voting hours. But private express carriers aren’t a replacement for the Postal Service, which will need to have robust operations if the election is to run smoothly.
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