Oregon’s Mailed Ballot Returns Delayed Due to Confusion About Counting Process
Oregon’s Mailed Ballot Returns Delayed Due to Confusion About Counting Process

By Scottie Barnes

Post offices in two Oregon counties have caused delays in getting ballots from local post offices to county election offices ahead of the May 21 primary election in the vote-by-mail state.

After learning from county election clerks that ballot returns were lower than expected and some post offices across the state were delaying delivery of completed ballots, Oregon election officials met with USPS representatives on May 16 to address the issue.

The delay was the result of confusion about who is responsible for counting the ballots to calculate how much the state owes USPS for postage, state election officials explained.

Under an Oregon law passed in 2019, the state pays the postal service for ballots they process so that voters are not required to put a stamp on their ballot return envelopes.

According to a statement by Oregon elections director Molly Woon, county election officials, not postal workers, are tasked with counting the ballots and reporting those numbers to the state and USPS for payment.

However, this process had apparently not been made clear.

Election officials in one of the state’s largest counties believed that postal workers needed time to count the number of ballots they were processing.

“Lane County has not been affected by slow delivery issue that other counties have reported,” Lane County election clerk Dena Dawson told The Epoch Times in an email.

“This may be due to the fact that we typically pick up ballots mid-morning, which allows the post office time to accurately account for billing.”

Postal workers in Douglas and Lincoln counties were also taking the time to count the ballots, causing delivery delays in those rural areas.

“We are aware of some instances of ballots being held at certain locations,” Laura Kerns, a spokesperson for the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office told The Epoch Times. USPS has assured the secretary of state that the issue would be quickly resolved, she added.

“In Douglas County, a limited number of ballots weren’t immediately available to election officials but were made available later that day with no further delay,” wrote senior USPS spokesperson Kim Frum. “We are reviewing procedures with our employees and look forward to next week’s successful election,” she told The Epoch Times.

Oregon House Leader Jeff Helfrich, a Republican, was not satisfied.

“Voters deserve to have the utmost confidence in our elections, yet situations like this show how vulnerable our system is,” he told The Epoch Times. “Disruptions in the chain of custody, especially at this magnitude, are outrageous and unacceptable. This is the direct result of Democrat leaders meddling with election laws and failing to properly oversee ballot returns.”

The Secretary of State’s Office laid blame on USPS, saying that ongoing consolidation may have led to the confusion

Challenges to Voting by Mail

Postal Service delays have increasingly affected Oregon residents over the past several months, particularly in rural areas.

These delays are partly due to a USPS policy that took effect in late February in Oregon, which means outgoing mail at more than two dozen mostly rural post offices is picked up later than it was previously.

The new strategy is known as Local Transportation Optimization (LTO).

It’s part of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s “Delivering for America” 10-year plan intended to make the agency, which lost $6.5 billion in fiscal year 2023, financially sustainable and reduce carbon emissions.

“LTO is part of the Postal Service’s larger effort to optimize our truck capacity and reduce the overall number of carbon-wasting, duplicate trips,” Kim Frum, a Postal Service strategic communications specialist, wrote in a statement on the USPS website.

“Our local transportation network often includes a large number of separate and underutilized trips to pick up and drop off mail and packages from Post Office locations and other postal facilities. LTO aims to improve the efficiency of our transportation network, in certain circumstances, by using one trip to drop off mail to be delivered and to pick up outgoing mail for processing.”

When the policy was enacted, critics expressed concern that the change could result in some pieces of mail, including packages as well as first-class letters, being delivered a day later than in the past.

They also raised concerns about time-sensitive mail, including election ballots and tax returns.

While addressing the issue of ballot delays, Ms. Kerns said the SOS was “making sure USPS national headquarters understands the implications of their downsizing decisions in Oregon.”

Meanwhile, she said the secretary of state has “no reason to believe these issues will impact Oregonians’ ability to have their vote counted in time for Election Day.”

Polls in Oregon close on May 21 at 8:00 P.M. PT, though voters have been submitting their ballots since they were mailed out on May 1.

Ballots can be dropped in a U.S. mail receptacle or at official election drop boxes located around the state.

The state’s postmark rule, enacted during the 2022 election cycle, allows ballots postmarked as late as election day to be counted for a week. This may delay the results of close races because it can take a few days for all the votes to be counted.

In less competitive races, first results can likely be expected within 30 minutes of polls closing.

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