WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — The general counsel and executive vice president of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Thomas J. Marshall sent a letter to Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap warning him that some ballots may not be counted in the upcoming General Election.
The letter, dated July 29, explains Maine’s election laws concerning deadlines for requesting and casting mail-in ballots are “incongruous with the Postal Service’s delivery standards.” Marshall says this “mismatch” creates a risk that ballots requested near the state deadline will not be returned by mail in time to be counted under Maine laws as the USPS understands them.
Dunlap, however, says “this is not new.”
“No two states have the same election laws,” Dunlap told NEWS CENTER Maine. “The laws are literally and figuratively all over the place.”
Dunlap says he’s never seen anything like this before. “I’m puzzled more than anything,” Dunlap said. “We’ve never had this type of correspondence [with the USPS] before.”
To account for the deadline difference, the USPS is recommending voters send their ballots in 15 days before Election Day "at a minimum, and preferably long before that time."
"[I]f state law requires ballots to be returned by Election Day, voters should mail their ballots no later than Tuesday, October 27," Marshall writes.
In response to the letter, Maine Gov. Janet Mills' office said in a statement to NEWS CENTER Maine's partners at the Portland Press Herald, "Gov. Mills is deeply concerned by the letter, which, taken in conjunction with the President's disturbing comments yesterday regarding funding for the Postal Service, raises the specter of ballots delayed, ballots lost in the mail, ballots not counted," Lindsay Crete, the press secretary for Mills, said. "These pronouncements from the highest levels of government portent a serious threat to the very foundations of our democracy."
The Press Herald reports Mills, Dunlap, and Attorney General Aaron Frey are discussing ways to safeguard the absentee voting process.
According to The Washington Post, 45 other states and the District of Columbia have been sent similar letters from the USPS, warning that it cannot guarantee all mail-in ballots will arrive in time to be counted for the General Election.
In Maine, ballots must be received by the municipal clerk by 8 p.m. on election night.
The USPS, hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, is facing funding shortfalls. President Donald Trump directly admitted Thursday he is starving the federal agency of funds in order to make it harder to process mail-in ballots.
"They need that money in order to have the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots," Trump said on Fox Business Network, adding, if they don't get the funds, "that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting because they’re not equipped to have it."
The USPS has undergone sweeping policy and organizational changes since Louis DeJoy was appointed Postmaster General in May. DeJoy, a wealthy North Carolina businessman who is a Trump donor, was previously a fundraiser for the Republican National Convention. According to reports, he’s given about $360,000 to the Trump Victory super PAC supporting his reelection. Since his appointment, overtime for hundreds of thousands of employees has been eliminated and mandates have been put in place that delays mail deliveries.
According to USA Today, DeJoy wrote in a memo to employees, “if we cannot deliver all the mail due to call offs or shortage of people and you have no other help, the mail will not go out."
These changes, in addition to Trump’s repeated false claims that voting by mail leads to mass fraud, has state officials and citizens across the country alarmed about being disenfranchised in the upcoming election.
Dunlap says he and the State have been planning how to handle elections safely amid the coronavirus pandemic since March, and the mail-in option has proven to be an effective and practical solution that keeps Mainers safe while preserving their right to vote. He said Maine “did a pretty good job for the primary.”
In the July 14 State Primary, Maine saw a 30% voter turnout compared to the typical 20%—and 80% of those voters were absentee.
“We expect we’ll see similar numbers in November, and I don’t think the voters are going to be dissuaded from participating with confidence and without fear in order to participate in this upcoming election,” Dunlap said in an interview with MSNBC Friday morning.
Dunlap echoed those sentiments to NEWS CENTER Maine on Friday, saying while the letter and Trump’s rhetoric are alarming, “we can grapple with it,” and says it’s an "unwelcome distraction."
That said, he encourages people not to wait to get their ballots in. “Don’t wait until November 2—get it in early.”
Dunlap says if the situation escalates, states have enough resources at their disposal to handle it.
“I think voters can be confident right now that election officials around the country […] are standing ready, along with us in Maine, to make sure that people can participate in their democratic form of self-governance and do so with confidence.”