In states that rely largely or entirely on vote-by-mail or absentee ballots, a pre-Nov. 6 disruption of mail delivery caused by the U.S. Postal Service’s fiscal crisis would be a fiasco for voters and election officials. With partisan battles already under way on voter eligibility across the nation over fears of voter fraud and charges of vote suppression, the last thing the upcoming election needs is another procedural snafu. Washington and Oregon voters cast their ballots entirely by mail or at local drop boxes, and in California’s June primary, nearly two out of three voters cast their ballots by mail. Even in states where voters still show up in person to vote at their local precinct, absentee voting by mail is common. In order for the election to take place, the mail must get delivered promptly – no matter how dire the Postal Service’s fiscal crisis is – and it’s dire indeed. In the second quarter of its fiscal year (January to March) the Postal Service lost $3.2 billion. Congressional postal experts will be scrutinizing its third-quarter financial statement on Aug. 9 to see if the distress has worsened. While the Senate has passed a reform bill to keep the Postal Service afloat, the House hasn’t yet acted. Urging the House to move, one of the Senate reform leaders, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said Wednesday “Only one week from now, the Postal Service will default on a $5.5 billion payment to Treasury – further eroding the confidence of the millions of customers and businesses” that rely on mail to get delivered.
USPS spokesman David Partenheimer said Thursday, “Default on the retiree health benefits prepayment due August 1 will have no effect on mail operations, including election mail. The Postal Service will continue to meet its obligation to provide universal service to the American people. Our priority is to continue to pay employees and suppliers on a timely basis and avoid any disruption in mail processing or delivery.” While carrying out a plan to shrink its workforce by 13,000 and shut down some processing facilities, the Postal Service did say in May that “Due to the volume of high-priority mail predicted for the election and holiday mailing seasons, no consolidating activities will be conducted from September through December of 2012.” Partenheimer confirmed Thursday this is still the case. He said the Postal Service will continue to provide information on its consolidations to election officials and “explain why they will not adversely affect delivery of election-related mail.” He added that the Postal Service has created an Election Mail Task Force that will facilitate the timely processing and delivery of election mail. Nonetheless, state election officials are keeping a wary eye on the Postal Service’s fiscal crisis.