As Of Probably Right Now, Drop Off Your Absentee Ballot, Don't Mail It
If you requested an absentee ballot and haven't mailed it yet, you should probably avoid sending your ballot through the mail starting today, on the principle that you don't want to take any risks with this election. That goes double for voters in swing states, where — quelle surprise! — the Postal Service's ontime delivery rates appear to be slumping again. The Washington Posthas some numbers that ought to convince you to drop that ballot off in person before the election. (If you're not sure where to take it, Vote.org has links to all state elections offices!)
Nationally, only 85.6 percent of all first-class mail was delivered on time the week of Oct. 16; that's the 14th consecutive week the on-time rate sat below 90 percent for mail that should reach its destination within three days.
Now, if you've already mailed your ballot this morning or in the last few days, don't freak out, because as Government Executive details, the Postal Service is, in general, making efforts to process election mail faster than regular first-class mail, particularly since the USPS is under several court orders to do so. In all but a few states, you can track your ballot after it's been mailed.
But from a logistical point of view, taking your ballot to drop off personally is probably the best way to avoid stress and anxiety at this point.
The Biden campaign has already changed its language for Get Out the Vote efforts to urge voters to either use a secure drop box or take their ballots to their local elections office.
David Becker, executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation & Research, told the Post,
If you haven't requested a mail ballot yet, it's too late. [...] I don't care about the legal deadline; it's just too late in terms of getting it processed, getting it mailed to you and you being able to fill it out and return it. You're just putting too much pressure on yourself. At this point, if you haven't requested a mail ballot yet, plan to vote in person and vote early, if possible.
And if you requested an absentee ballot that hasn't yet arrived, he says, you should probably vote in person if you can, either early or on Election Day; different states have different requirements, so you may have to submit a provisional ballot. And if you have an absentee ballot but decide to vote in person, you may also need to surrender your absentee ballot, so bring it along just to be sure. For details, check with your state's elections website, which again, you can find at Vote.org.
The Post notes that the Postal Service has sent out instructions telling all employees to take "extraordinary measures" to prioritize handling ballots, to conform with those court orders:
Retail offices may create ballot-only lines at customer service windows and drive-through ballot drop-off areas, stated the memo from Kristin Seaver and chief logistics and processing operations officer David E. Williams. Employees are authorized to sort and postmark ballots at local post offices rather than sending them to regional processing plants, the memo states. Letter carriers are instructed to visit every delivery destination on Oct. 29, 30 and 31 — even if they have no items to deliver — to check for mail.
But even with those measures, a lot of populous areas that could make the difference in the electoral count are still facing mail slowdowns, the Post points out:
In the Detroit postal district, which includes most of eastern Michigan, only 71.5 percent of first-class mail was delivered on time during the week of Oct. 16. In the Greensboro district in North Carolina, 79.4 percent was on time. In Pennsylvania, mail service varies by several percent across the state's three postal districts. In the Philadelphia Metro area, 76.9 percent was on time; in central Pennsylvania, 79.6 was on time; in western Pennsylvania, 87.3 percent was on time.
In Baltimore, mail was delivered on time 65.5 percent of the time.
As for making sure your absentee ballot is actually counted, the main thing you need to do is make sure you follow the instructions to the letter. Your state elections office may even post instructional videos on what needs to be filled out, where (in some states, you may need a witness or a PIN number from the state; make sure you know what that is — don't just assume it's the last four digits of your Social Security number, because some states are bastards. The AARP has a nice list of general tips, too, but make sure you know what your state requires.
And if you're in Pennsylvania, it's fine if you're naked, but not if your ballot is!
Once you've got your ballot in, see if you can help get out the vote, too!
[Updated to note that in many states, you may need to surrender an absentee ballot if you vote in person]
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