WASHINGTON — The U.S. Postal Service sent letters of warning to 46 states (including Maryland and Virginia) and the District of Columbia, indicating that it could not guarantee all mail-in ballots cast for the November election would arrive in time to be counted. D.C. (and six other states) were told that only a narrow set of voters may be affected, but Virginia and Maryland (and 38 other states) received a "heightened warning" that USPS could not meet state-mandated deadlines.
This, along with a recent absentee voter snafu in Virginia, is elevating what some are calling election anxiety in the DMV. Voters are expressing doubts as to how the unique 2020 election will work, given the higher need for mail-in ballots during the pandemic.
When WUSA9 reached out to D.C.'s Board of Elections (BOE) Director Alice Miller to ask about the USPS letter, Miller said it was the first time she was hearing about it. She stressed that D.C.'s BOE messaging will continue to emphasize ballot drop boxes and in-person early voting as better options than mail-in ballots. The District aims to have 50 400-pound ballot drop boxes located around the city, which will be will be locked and under 24-hour surveillance. Ballots will be collected from the drop boxes by 8 p.m. on election night.
"We will encourage voters to do what they need to do to get their ballots counted and counted timely," Miller said. "We want to make sure that no voter is disenfranchised."
DC BOE said they are working to mail out ballots as soon as they can, but Miller said that if there are mailing delays, people will have to vote in-person on election day.
Maryland's BOE said they had heard from USPS on July 31 regarding concerns about mail-in ballots being received, and in response, the BOE is working to give Maryland voters additional time to complete their ballots.
“The Board this month moved the deadline for voters to return their ballot applications up one week to Tuesday, Oct. 20 from Tuesday, Oct. 27," the Maryland BOE said in a statement. "Additionally, ballot applications mailed to voters will include clear messaging encouraging them to return their applications early. The Board will also begin mailing ballots at least 30 days before Election Day and will use first class mail for both ballot applications and mail-in ballots."
According to the Maryland BOE, ballots must be postmarked on or before Election Day but are considered "timely" as long as they are received within 10 days of the election, or Nov. 13.
“The Board continues to encourage all Marylanders to cast mail-in ballots as a precaution during the COVID-19 state of emergency and to do so in a timely manner," the statement continued.
Maryland also plans to have at least 127 ballot drop boxes around the state.
Virgina's BOE has not yet returned WUSA9's call for comment, but Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam issued a comment regarding the USPS letter.
"This is a deeply troubling development in what is becoming a clear pattern of attempted voter suppression by the Trump administration," Northam said. "I am committed to making sure all Virginians have access to the ballot box, and will continue to work with state and federal lawmakers to ensure safe, secure, and accessible elections this fall."
According to Associated Press reports, USPS officials "have warned they will run out of money by the end of September without help from Congress." The organization reported a $4.5 billion loss in Q1, before the pandemic fully took hold in the U.S.
In an interview on Fox Business Network, President Trump was frank about his intentions for stalling USPS funding proposals from the Democrats.
“If we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money,” Trump said. “That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting; they just can’t have it.”
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who has donated to Trump and other Republicans, has said that the agency is in a financially untenable position, but he maintains it can handle this year's election mail. The cost-cutting measures taken by USPS have led to mail delays across the country.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Government Operations, is calling for the resignation of DeJoy.
“Postmaster General DeJoy’s brief term has already become one of the darkest in USPS history," Connolly said in a statement. "On the eve of a presidential election, in the midst of the worst public health pandemic in 100 years, Mr. DeJoy has pledged his allegiance to the political expedience of President Trump at the expense of protecting our democracy and access to the ballot. He has deliberately enacted policies to sabotage the Postal Service to serve only one person, President Trump. He has failed the American people. Mr. DeJoy must resign.”
USPS has not yet responded to WUSA9's request for comment.
You can see the original letters sent to D.C., Maryland and Virginia below: