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Staffing Issues, COVID-19 Cases At Postal Service Prompt Concern About Mail-In Ballots In Chicago And Beyond

CHICAGO (CBS) -- There are now 44 days until the November election, and on this day, when everyone is being urged to register to vote, we are learning there are big worries about mail-in ballots.

Already in Illinois, more than 1.7 million people have requested them - four times the previous record in 2018.

And now in a new possible threat to the election, tens of thousands of postal workers have contracted the coronavirus.

CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey spent Tuesday digging into the issues.

The union that represents letter carriers in the city says they have seen a recent uptick in the number of positive COVID-19 cases in Chicago, but fortunately it is not as significant as the surge in cases that USPS is seeing across the country.

To date, letter carriers in the city have had about 85 positive COVI-19 cases, the bulk of which were in the spring.

Still, on Tuesday, there were some candid words from the Mack Julion, the Chicago President of the National Association of Letter Carriers.

"Our facilities are not the most social distance friendly," he said. "If it was a party in there, Governor Pritzker of Mayor Lightfoot would shut it down."

Julion is not surprised by the latest numbers obtained by our reporting partners at Electionland, a project of the nonprofit newsroom ProPublica.
They found that nationwide, the total number of postal workers testing positive has more than tripled from about 3,100 cases in June to 9,600 in September.

More than 50,000 employees have taken time off at some point during the pandemic because they were sick, or had to quarantine or care for family members.

The union said it is reiterating the need COVID-19 precautions for workers this fall.

But that is not the only issue.

"Pre-COVID, we were understaffed," Julion said. "You walk into a facility and you're 5, 10 routes to start the day.

The staffing issues come as the Illinois State Board of Elections tells us they have received 1.73 million applications statewide for vote by mail so far - likely tripling the old record.

New this year are secured drop boxes that would allow mail-in voters to hand deliver their applications.

Even with staffing challenges, Julion remains confident that voters can also rely on USPS to deliver the ballots in time.

"You get it in the mail and we will get those ballots in," Julion said.

Ballot mailings, by law, are set to begin on Sept. 24.

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