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Delaware Headlines

State officials say they're meeting with Postal Service about vote by mail

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Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media
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Gov. John Carney and the state Election Commissioner addressed fears over the U.S. Postal Service’s ability to handle mail-in ballots for upcoming elections during the Governor’s weekly briefing Wednesday. 

Close to half of votes cast in Delaware’s presidential primary were absentee, according to election officials. That trend is expected to carry into the state primary next month, thanks to no-excuse vote-by-mail legislation that passed this summer. 

But changes at the Postal Service that have reportedly caused delivery delays are raising concerns nationwide about whether mail-in ballots will get where they’re headed in time.

American Postal Workers Union Local 152 President Trina Wynn says recent changes at the state processing center in New Castle will likely complicate vote-by-mail. 

“With the equipment that has been taken out of the Delaware mail processing center, it will be difficult,” she said. “We can handle [it], but it will be difficult.”

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy committed Tuesday to suspending the controversial changes until after the election — but did not mention whether the machines already removed will be put back.

During Wednesday’s briefing, state Election Commissioner Anthony Albence urged those who plan to vote by mail to request their ballots and send them back as soon as possible. 

“Early, early, early,” said Albence. “As early as possible, as soon as you get that application.”

The Department of Elections mailed vote-by-mail applications to all registered Democrat and Republican voters who had not already elected to vote absentee in the Sept. 15 state primary earlier this month. 

Gov. Carney said Wednesday state officials have been meeting with regional postal managers to be confident they have the equipment to process the mail in a timely manner.

Albence stressed that the relationships between elections and postal officials are longstanding.

“Our communication is ongoing with our regional and local postal officials to ensure we’re in sync on that,” he said. “I have great confidence, certainly, that will continue, having been the case historically.”

Still, state election deadlines are at odds with recent USPS guidance. 

Under state code, election officials can send ballots to voters as little as four days before the election. The Postal Service is recommending voters mail their completed ballots in at least a week before election day. 

Gov. Carney called this discrepancy “an issue.”

“The four-day [deadline] is in the code,” said Albence. “That’s one of those things, probably in light of the Postal Service, going into the future we’ll have to look at asking the Legislature to take a look at and possibly change that, if that’s their desire to do so.”

Delaware election officials can only count ballots that have arrived at county elections offices by the close of polls. They cannot count late ballots that have been postmarked by election day, like in some states. 

Albence says changing this rule would also take action by the state legislature. 

“It's up to the discretion of the legislature on how they would like to approach it, and we will follow their direction as enacted in the [state] code,” Albence wrote in an email Wednesday. 

Jonathan Starkey, a spokesperson for Gov. Carney’s office, said in an email he was uncertain whether the Governor could change the rules by executive order, but that the Governor’s office is “looking at the options we have.”

 

All regular polling places will be open during the fall elections. Voters can choose to vote in person, through the normal absentee process or through the temporary vote-by-mail process. Those receiving their ballots in the mail can also drop them off at secure drop boxes.

 

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