GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — More than 2.7 million absentee ballots have been requested by Michigan voters. The United States Postal Service continues to handle those requests, with the Secretary of State saying she is in constant communication with the USPS.
With the increase in the mail the post office is experiencing, FOX 17 sent out standard envelopes and larger ones, about the size of an absentee ballot, to see how long they would take to return. In total, 35 envelopes were sent out, from rural areas and larger cities.
Overall, we found most envelopes returned within three days, and nearly all of them within a five-day period. We saw longer delays in the Kalamazoo area compared to others. One envelope has not returned and has been in transit for more than a week. It was sent out with 12 others, which have all been accounted for.
Business owners and others have stated they have seen similar problems, if not worse, with USPS.
One business owner based in Wyoming says some packages are taking more than 30 days to arrive at their destinations when 3- to 5-day shipping has been paid for. Another business said they had to file three complaints in one month, for both incoming and outgoing mail to clients.
Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson says they are already seeing high return numbers of absentee ballots.
"When it's received, we're seeing some lag. Nothing significant, but the important thing is that voters are it seems, by and large, moving early casting their ballots early returning their balance early," said Secretary Benson. "That is helping us mitigate against any potential delays in the system." She says she is confident votes by mail will be counted in Michigan.
Benson said the risk for voter fraud remains low, as signature matching will be done to ensure each vote was cast by the person who signed and cast an absentee ballot.
"When ballots are requested, that request comes with a signature that is verified," said Benson. "Then, when your ballot is received and returned, it's not counted unless our courts can verify the voter's identity with the signature outside the ballot. Now new legislation will require clerks to contact any voter if a signature is missing or doesn't match, so that we can also ensure that we're not discarding any valid ballots."
Benson urges every voter to send their ballot by mail prior to October 20. After that date, it's best to hand them directly to the clerk or drop them off at a secure dropbox. Every absentee ballot in a dropbox by 8 p.m. on election night will be counted, according to Benson.
When asked how it will handle the influx of mail, USPS provided the following statement:
“The United States Postal Service’s number one priority between now and Election Day is the secure, on-time delivery of the nation’s Election Mail. We employ a robust process to ensure proper handling of all Election Mail, including ballots. This includes close coordination and partnerships with election officials at the local and state levels. As we anticipate that many voters may choose to use the mail to participate in the upcoming elections due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are conducting and will continue to proactively conduct outreach with state and local election officials so that they can make informed decisions and educate the public about what they can expect when using the mail to vote. As part of these outreach efforts, we will discuss our delivery processes and will consult with election officials about how they can design their mailings in a manner that comports with postal regulations, improves mailpiece visibility, and ensures efficient processing and delivery.
Voters are responsible for understanding their local jurisdiction's rules and requirements for participating in an election. In jurisdictions that require eligible voters to request a ballot in order to receive one through the mail, we recommend that domestic, nonmilitary voters request their ballot as early as their jurisdiction allows. For domestic, non-military voters who choose to use the mail to return their completed ballot, the Postal Service recommends that, as a common-sense measure, such voters mail their completed ballots before Election Day and at least one week prior to their state's deadline. Some states may recommend allowing even more time for mailing completed ballots. The Postal Service also recommends that voters explore the resources available from their local election officials for information about deadlines, rules, policies, and other requirements in their locality.
Beginning October 1st, the Postal Service has authorized and instructed the use of additional resources, which include but are not limited to, expanded processing procedures, extra transportation, extra delivery and collection trips and overtime to ensure that Election Mail, including ballots, reaches its intended destination in a timely manner. The Postal Service has also made clear that, as it has done in previous election cycles, the Postal Service will be taking additional extraordinary measures to accelerate the delivery of ballots starting the week before Election Day."