Mail-in ballots sit in containers from the U.S. Postal Service waiting to be processed by election workers at the Salt Lake County election office on Oct. 29, 2020.

Mail-in ballots sit in containers from the U.S. Postal Service waiting to be processed by election workers at the Salt Lake County election office on Oct. 29, 2020. GEORGE FREY/AFP via Getty Images file photo

USPS Is Delivering Ballots Faster in 2022

The Postal Service could improve its tracking, IG says, though the mailing agency has implemented many reforms to improve performance.

With several states already starting to send out ballots for the midterm elections, a new audit has found the U.S. Postal Service is well positioned to handle the upcoming surge in election mail. 

USPS has implemented new policies in recent years to boost its ability to quickly get ballots out to voters and back to election officials, which are already paying dividends. Not all facilities are following all of the procedures, however, which the agency’s inspector general said could cause disruptions for voters casting ballots through the mail. 

From April 1 through June 30—even as mailed ballots surged compared to the previous midterm election—USPS delivered 97.6% of election mail on time, up 1 percentage point from 2020 and 6 points ahead of its target. The IG noted the Postal Service has provided resources and training to the field for handling election mail; created election mail staging areas at its facilities; prioritized timely delivery of election mail for 2022; and implemented 13 of the auditor’s previous 14 recommendations regarding the use of barcodes, ballot mailpiece design and postmarking. 

Still, the IG found some processing centers did not complete audit checklists or daily sweeps, which confirm readiness for election mail through evaluations of staging areas, logging of the pieces and physically combing through the facility to ensure no ballots were left behind. Postal facilities are required to conduct two “all clear” checks per day, but the IG found only 60% were in compliance with the afternoon sweep mandate. USPS has implemented a policy requiring all election mail to receive postmarks, which helps local officials ensure compliance with return deadlines, but the IG found some facilities were not doing so. 

“When [processing and distribution centers] and delivery units are not certifying the all clear in accordance with Postal Service policy, there is a greater chance that committed election mail remains at the facility and gets delayed,” the IG said.

John Cihota, USPS’ director of audit services, defended his agency’s approach to election mail, but agreed to implement some improvements.  

“The Postal Service has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to the timely processing and delivery of election mail,” Cihota said. “We are working tirelessly to ensure our operational preparedness for the 2022 November general election and continue to look for opportunities to strengthen our proven processes.”

Cihota added USPS is “committed to continuous improvement” and would therefore take steps to reinforce its policies on all clears, sweeps and postmarking.

As of July, USPS was seeing a nearly 200% increase in volume compared to the same point of the 2018 midterm season. It had delivered 99.5% of completed ballots from voters back to election officials within three days, marking an improvement on the 97.9% rate it oversaw in 2020. Ballots were taking 1.8 days on average to go from election officials to voters, and 0.7 days to from the voters back to the officials.

As part of a settlement agreement with the NAACP and Public Citizen last year, USPS pledged to make a “good-faith effort” to implement “extraordinary measures” in the runup to the election similar to those in place in 2020. The Postal Service will begin carrying out extra deliveries and collections, special pickups and expanded processing facility hours on Oct. 24 and continue those steps through Nov. 29, according to Adrienne Marshall, USPS’ first-ever Election and Government Mail Services director.

The Postal Service sent kits to election officials across the country in March to offer their recommendations for election mail policies and has maintained “strike teams” at the area and district levels to engage with those individuals.

The IG faulted USPS for only being able to track the timeliness of delivery for 83% of ballots, despite that marking a significant improvement on the 53% rate the agency saw in 2020. Despite the progress, the IG said, the Postal Service has been unable to identify the root causes for why some ballots remain untracked. 

While many states and jurisdictions have sought to place restrictions on mail-in voting, often citing false claims of voter fraud, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy this summer sought to quash any reservations about the system. 

“I know election mail is safe,” he said. “And it'll continue to be safe because we pay a lot of attention to it.”