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KPIX 5 Vote Smart: KPIX Mail-In Ballot Survey Puts USPS On-Time Delivery To The Test

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) - The United States Post Office prides itself on on-time delivery. So, with just weeks to go until Election Day and more people than ever voting by mail, KPIX's Kenny Choi decided to put the Bay Area's mail service to the test.

Every day, 15-to-20 million pieces of Bay Area mail arrive at one of three giant processing facilities in San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose, where they are sorted, postmarked and sent off to their final destinations. First-class mail is supposed to arrive locally in 1-3 business days.

But some Bay Area residents are skeptical.

"It's not coming in, it's not going out," said Nancy Brown.

Brown lives in Campbell, where there have been terrible issues with mail delivery, this year.

"This is definitely something to be concerned about, especially with the election," said Campbell.

It's a question on a lot of peoples' minds, so KPIX 5 conducted an unscientific test.

Mail-in ballots not only go first-class, they also get special priority. We couldn't duplicate that, but we did our best. We picked envelopes that are about the same size as a ballot, stuffed them to make them about the same weight, and put first-class postage on 100 of them.

To compare how different Bay Area regions perform, we divided the mock ballots into four packs of 25 each and addressed them to four different P.O. boxes in Santa Clara, Contra Costa, Alameda and San Francisco counties.

Then we broke up into four teams and hit the road, dropping our envelopes off at 100 mailboxes, post offices, and even the mailman in 24 cities across the four Bay Area counties.

Four business days later we came back to check.

In Walnut Creek at our Contra Costa County P.O. box, only 22 out of the 25 envelopes had arrived.

All our mock ballots arrived within four days in both Santa Clara and Alameda counties.

And the last 3 Contra Costa County mock ballots came in on day six.

But as for San Francisco, we're still waiting on 2 to arrive.

"If the two fake ballots you sent never show up, it is concerning," said Jonathan Stein, California Director of the voting rights watchdog group Common Cause.

But Stein says this election for the first time you can track your ballot and get a new one if it gets lost.

Another big change: As long as your mail-in ballot is postmarked by Election Day, it has 17 days to get to the registrar's office, instead of the traditional three.

"So even late ballots still have more than enough time to get to the elections office and be counted," said Stein.

But what if the ballot is postmarked the day "after" election day? A recent analysis of vote-by-mail ballots in Sacramento, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties found that on average 1.7 percent get rejected.

Problems with signatures are partly to blame, but the top reason: They arrive too late, mostly because they're "postmarked" too late.

Some of the pickup times at mail boxes we visited were earlier than we expected -- as early as 10 a.m.

"I don't think that is voters who are trying to mail their ballot the day after Election Day. I think it's voters who are putting their vote by mail ballots in a blue box after the last pickup on Election Day," said Stein.

"That's a critical point," agreed John Arntz, Director of Elections for San Francisco. "People have to be aware of the pickup times," said Arntz.

He says if you've waited until Election Day to send in your ballot don't put in the mailbox. Instead, drop it off in person.

"We have two stations on either end of the Voting Center. People can bring their ballots and drop them off. We also have more ballot drop-off sites starting the weekend before Election Day. Then, on Election Day we have 588 polling places in San Francisco," said Arntz.

As for our two missing San Francisco mock ballots, "That is not the same thing as a mail-in ballot," said Arntz. "There's no P.O. box, no branch office, it's almost a straight shot. For this election, the post office is extremely focused on getting ballots to voters, and they're extremely focused on getting the ballot to the department of elections for tabulation. So yes I'm very confident in the process."

Back in Campbell, Nancy Brown is regaining some of her confidence, since all three ballots we mailed from her hometown arrived within four days.

"I'm hopeful. I'm definitely very hopeful that they are getting it corrected and we'll see a difference here," said Brown.

But she says she's still going to play it safe.

"I'll hand deliver mine myself. This is a really big year and it's very important to get your vote out there and make sure it counts," said Brown.

In the postal service's latest survey, 81 percent of national first class mail arrived within 3-to-5 days. We did better than that locally at 95 percent. And keep in mind the Post Office has beefed up service for this election, to prepare for the historically high number of mail-in ballots.

USPS Mailbox Locator:

Statement from USPS
Augustine "Augie" Ruiz, Corporate Communications

The Postal Service cannot substantiate that your test represents a reasonable approximation of Election Mail, including ballots, as processed and delivered by the United States Postal Service in a real election cycle.

The Postal Service has been working in close coordination with Secretaries of State and Boards of Election throughout the year leading up to the 2020 General Election. We have consulted on mail piece and ballot envelope design, encouraged the use of the Official Election Mail logo on all Election Mail (including ballot envelopes), Tag 191 for ballot mail, along with other visibility tools, and have been partnering with election officials to educate them on our recommendations and best practices for successfully using the mail. These visibility tools, and strong partnerships with election officials, help ensure that the Postal Service is able to expeditiously move Election Mail through our network and deliver it in a timely manner.

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.

Further information is found in this link:

The United States Postal Service is committed to fulfilling our role in the electoral process when public policy makers choose to utilize us as a part of their election system. We provide election officials with a secure, efficient and effective means to enable citizens to participate in elections.

The Postal Service is committed to delivering Election Mail in a timely manner. We employ a robust and proven process to ensure proper handling of all Election Mail, including ballots.

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.

The Postal Service is ready to handle whatever volume of election mail it receives. Postmaster General DeJoy's number one priority is to deliver election mail in a timely manner. Effective October 1, the Postal Service will engage additional resources, including transportation, as necessary, to help support the timely and expeditious handling of Election Mail.

To put it in context, the Postal Service delivers 433 million pieces of mail a day. Even if all Americans were to vote by mail this year, 330 million ballots over the course of the election would be only three-quarters of what the Postal Service delivers in one single day. The Postal Service has more than enough capacity to handle all election mail this year, which is predicted to amount to less than 2% of total mail volume from mid-September to Election Day.

In some areas, we are more affected by the COVID-19 pandemic than in others. We are working through these challenges to ensure consistent service for our customers, including increasing hiring based on local need."

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