Fri. May 24th, 2024

Major mail delivery delays raise concerns about voting in the 2024 elections

By 37ci3 Apr6,2024

Colon cancer screening test results for hundreds of veterans in Virginia have been canceled after months of delays. An Atlanta college student missed an academic trip to Ghana when it took a month for her passport to show up with two-day shipping. A bride in Texas had to rent a dress for her wedding after spending weeks at a Houston postal facility.

Residents and businesses across the country are reporting widespread delays in mail and package delivery by the US Postal Service. The delays have become so persistent that members of Congress have stepped in, calling on the Postal Service to drastically correct course and raising concerns about the impact it could have on mail-in ballots in upcoming elections.

The delays are largely caused by a new system the Postal Service began implementing last fall that sends all of the nation’s mail and packages through a consolidated network of 60 regional distribution centers — similar to the hub-and-spoke model of airlines. The change is part of a broader 10-year $40 billion capital repairs Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said it would cut costs, improve reliability and make the Postal Service more competitive. In some cases, the plan backfired, according to the Postal Service Inspector General, members of Congress and Postal Service advocacy groups.

“It’s just a dumpster fire right now,” said Leo Raymond, former Postal Service manager and managing director of Mailers Hub, an industry group for direct mail companies. He said his members have everything from client accounts to strategically timed marketing materials. “If you’re a business, you’re going to be reluctant to use the mail because you want your stuff to actually get there.”

During the last three months of 2023, 87% of first-class two-day mail across the country arrived on time, down 2.5 percentage points from the same period a year ago. data Published by the Inspector General of the Postal Service. For mail expected to take three to five days, only 70% arrived on time, down 11 percentage points, according to the data.

Senator Gary Peters, the top senator who oversees the Postal Service, last month urged the agency to hold off on any further changes to the delivery network, fearing the delays could worsen and spread. But an official in Peters’ office said there was no indication the Postal Service planned to do so.

“The nature of USPS’s network changes has raised significant concerns, such as the potential for degraded rural services due to fewer facilities now, delayed election mail to be processed at out-of-state facilities, and critical health information such as laboratory tests. same-day processing due to reduced vehicle trips,” Peters, a Michigan Democrat, said in March letter For DeJoy.

Delays have been most significant in some of the first regions to implement the new regional distribution system, including Richmond, Virginia, Houston and metro Atlanta.

Postal delays in Richmond, which implemented one of the first regional distribution centers in October, were so widespread that Richmond Registrar General Keith Ballmer told residents in February not to mail in ballots for the March presidential election and instead use one of three. dropping off boxes in town or voting in person at an early voting location or polling place on election day. For the upcoming election, Balmer said he would urge voters to use strong boxes.

“I understand that these problems go beyond mere inconvenience; they are the main threat to our democracy,” Ballmer said blog Posted on February 26.

The Postal Service has blamed weather-related roof collapses, switching to new processing equipment and lost traffic for its problems in Atlanta, Houston, Kansas City and Richmond over the past six months. The vendor and “implementation difficulties arising from operational transitions,” the Postal Service told NBC News. But he said the breaks are improving.

“We readily acknowledge and regret that there have been service performance issues in several major metropolitan areas over the past six months,” the statement said. “In each of these site-specific breaches, we moved quickly to understand the local problem and stabilize the situation. As a result, service performance in these local communities improves or returns to expected performance.”

For the November election, the Postal Service said in a statement that it “will implement a robust and proven process to ensure the proper handling and delivery of all Election Letters, including ballots.” During the November 2022 midterm elections, 98.96 percent of ballots sent by voters to election officials were delivered within three days, 99.82 percent within five days, and 99.93 percent within seven days, according to the Postal Service.

Although the Postal Service says it has been working to fix the problems that have occurred over the past few months, a report A release this month by the Postal Service’s inspector general underscored the complexity of the problems in Richmond.

The Postal Service spent $25 million to convert an existing facility near Richmond into a facility in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, that would serve as a central hub for mail traveling more than 100 miles away. As the new system rolled out, Richmond residents began reporting significant irregularities in their mail starting in October. In the last three months of 2023, only 66% of mail arrived on time, the worst rate in the country. data from the inspector general.

The report detailed poorly supervised employees, including employees waiting idly for mail to arrive and a postal worker sleeping in a parked forklift, as well as sloppy handling of mail, including packages strewn across the floor of the facility and pieces of mail falling under equipment. , and was found sitting in a container in the yard of a 2-month-old mail truck.

Constantly changing, poorly planned vehicle routes added to the delays, as did the lack of drivers and vehicles sitting idle while waiting for mail to be sorted. Some trucks left with only a small portion of the mail they could carry. According to the report, as a result, the number of additional visits to the enterprise increased by 8 times, and late visits increased by 30%.

While the Postal Service estimated the new facility would reduce costs by $14 million in 2024, the facility paid an additional $5 million in unauthorized overtime in 2023 and had $3 million in questionable transportation costs, the report said.

Colon cancer screening results for veterans among mail pieces caught in delays. The Richmond Veterans Affairs Medical Center told members of Congress in late January that 870 home colon cancer tests, used to indicate whether a patient needs further testing, were taking so long that they were unreliable, with some tests taking months to deliver.

A VA spokeswoman said test delivery has improved since local congressional leaders raised the issue with Postal Service officials earlier this year, but the medical center is exploring other options for test delivery if problems arise in the future.

A donation of hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Virginia Museum of History and Culture in Richmond also caused delays, according to museum president Jamie Bosquet. He said the museum saw a drop in the number of donations it received by mail in October, just as it usually sees an increase in contributions towards the end of the year. By December, the museum had received only 10 pieces of mail from donors, compared to the hundreds it would have received that month.

“We had at least 600 mailings missing, representing at least a quarter of a million dollars in donations,” Bosquet said. “For us, when there’s a disruption in membership and philanthropy, it’s a disruption in every element of our operation.”

Then in late January, packages with hundreds of donations in the mail started showing up, many of which were postmarked in October, he said. Bosket said he believes most of the mail from 2023 has been delivered, but the museum’s mail remains sporadic.

“Something is wrong,” said Bosquet. “We don’t know what it is, and we don’t know how to find long-term help or any certainty that we can safely use the Postal Service.”

Residents in Atlanta have experienced similar delays since a new regional distribution center opened there in late February. After the facility opened, on-time delivery service in the region dropped from an already below-average 60-70% to 20%, according to Raymond. Local news organizations informed Hundreds of complaints from residents and long lines of trucks supported at the facility to drop off and pick up mail.

“Atlanta has been a total house on fire,” Raymond said.

The HBCU Green Foundation, which organizes an annual trip to Africa for students at historically Black colleges and universities, said nine passports were stuck in the mail in Atlanta for more than a month before the trip to Ghana. The group had to scramble to get new passports and visas for the students less than 48 hours before departure last month, but one student was unable to get a new passport and had to miss the trip.

The delays in Houston began after the opening of a new regional distribution center there in December. During the month of January Press conference By Al Green, D-Texas, a bride says her $1,600 dress didn’t arrive in time for her wedding and she had to rent one at the last minute. Irene Ramirez said her 89-year-old father’s heart medication from the VA has been in the mail in Houston for more than 18 days. He even said he tried calling the White House for help after spending hours on the phone with the Postal Service, only to be repeatedly disconnected.

“I understand that we are all fallible people,” Ramirez said. “But when the failures are ongoing and administrative and put people’s lives at risk, I think we need to stop and reverse course quickly.”

Rep. Silvia Garcia, a Democrat who represents part of the Houston area, said delays are improving and she has heard of no significant problems with the mailing of ballots during the March presidential election. But he is worried about the upcoming November elections.

“We’re coming up on a big November election,” Garcia said on a call with reporters last month. “We have to make sure that we remove any difficulty, any obstacle, any obstacle, any problem now so that we don’t end up like we are on the November ballot.”

In previous elections, the Postal Service used special procedures to ensure the prompt delivery of mailed ballots. But any irregularities close to an election, even relatively isolated ones, can have far-reaching effects.

“I hope it doesn’t become a problem,” said Steve Hutkins, who runs the Save the Post Office website. “But if the election is really close and there are issues with mail-in ballots in several key states, it could be a nightmare.”

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By 37ci3

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