The term “snail mail” to describe the U.S. Postal Service seems a little unfair. Sending a letter across the country in a few days for 47 cents is a pretty good deal. But it’s hard to compete with the instantaneous nature of email, especially in our I-needed-this-yesterday world.
And the snail mail label has only gained validity as the Postal Service has moved to cuts costs, closing smaller processing centers across the country in favor of fewer but larger centers with automated equipment, meaning that first-class mail is now delivered in a two- to five-day window, while standard mail is delivered within three to 10 days.
But, unless you’re paying your bills online, you’ve likely changed your mailing habits to make sure payments and other time-sensitive mail arrives on time.
The same goes for your election ballot. The change in delivery time for the postal service could require a change in voting habits for many Americans, the Bipartisan Policy Center advises in its recent report, “The New Realities of Voting by Mail in 2016.”
“The Postal Service of 2016 does not operate under the same service standards as it did even one or two presidential cycles ago,” the report states. Mail volume is down, and the USPS has adjusted its infrastructure accordingly.”
And while Washington, Oregon and Colorado are the only states that use vote-by-mail exclusively, about half the states allow voters to choose between mail-in ballots or voting at the polls.
Between 2005 and 2011, counties in Washington state were allowed the option to change to vote-by-mail. The switch was made for all counties — Pierce County being the final holdout — in the fall of 2011.
The Bipartisan Policy Center, a nonprofit think tank established by former Republican and Democratic senators in 2007, makes the following suggestions for voters, state and local election officials, lawmakers and postal officials to address the Postal Service changes:
- Voters need to know the deadlines for their ballots.
In Washington state, ballots are sent out at least 18 days before Election Day. Ballots must be postmarked no later than Election Day.
Another option, skipping the Postal Service all together, is to leave your ballot at an election drop box in your community or by returning it directly to the county auditor’s office. A list of locations for the drop boxes in Snohomish County is available at snohomishcountywa.gov/225/Ballot-Drop-Boxes. Most counties report that about half of their ballots arrive by ballot drop box, rather than by mail.
- Election officers should use special tags and other visual cues to more easily identify ballots.
- Legislators should review state law to ensure that enough time is allowed to distribute, mark and return ballots.
- The U.S. Postal Service should increase its staffing on the weekend before Election Day to allow full processing of mail, to avoid what’s been called “No Mail Tuesdays” when the lack of processing on Saturdays has reduced the flow of mail early in the week.
Some dates and information to remember:
Ballots for the state primary election will be mailed July 14. The voters’ pamphlet will be mailed July 13, but the Snohomish County voters’ pamphlet is now available online at tinyurl.com/SnoCoVotersGuide.
Online and mail registration for the Aug. 2 primary election has closed but you can register in person at the auditor’s office until July 25. Registration for the general election remains open online or by mail until Oct. 10 or in person at the auditor’s office until Oct. 31.
Keep an eye open for your ballot. Mark it and then return it with ample time.
Make sure your vote counts.