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Postal Service: It’s ready

FAIRMONT — Minnesota surprised the nation by being “in play” in the presidential race in 2016. It could happen again in 2020, this time amid an ongoing pandemic.

COVID-19 has disrupted nearly every aspect of people’s lives, shuttering businesses, eliminating jobs, keeping kids out of school, and making citizens cautious about venturing out and interacting with others. This will affect voting, and many people will turn to mail-in ballots to express their preferences.

But a heavy reliance on mail-in ballots has created a firestorm of controversy centering on two issues: can the Postal Service handle all the volume, and can it guarantee the legitmacy and security of mail-in ballots?

Different actors along the political spectrum are raising the questions. Notably, President Donald Trump (along with some backers) has alleged potential widespread fraud in the mail ballot process. Meanwhile, attorneys general from many states — including Minnesota — have been battling the Postal Service in court. They want to ensure that the post office does not change its operations in any way that would cause a slowdown in mail processing.

The attorneys general argue that on-time delivery dropped over the summer, and they tied the problem to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, saying he issued orders that led to the slowdown. According to reporting from the Associated Press, lawyers for the Postal Service countered, saying no slowdown or overtime ban was ever issued from postal headquarters. However, they conceded that local postal managers may have miscontrued guidance from Washington and subsequently made decisions that slowed the mail.

Judges in several states have issued emergency orders to make sure the mail is delivered in a timely fashion. The orders are meant to ensure delivery not only of ballots but of food, medications and other essentials.

As for the integrity question, senior national security officials recently provided assurances about the integrity of U.S. elections, according to the Associated Press.

“I’m here to tell you that my confidence in the security of your vote has never been higher,” Chris Krebs, the director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. “That’s because of an all-of-nation, unprecedented election security effort over the last several years.”

The officials conceded that the Nov. 3 election will be different than past ones because of the millions of Americans expected to vote by mail. But they offered no support for the idea that mail-balloting will be tainted by fraud or foreign interference as they detailed the steps their agencies are taking to safeguard the vote.

“No matter which method you choose, your voice is important,” said FBI Director Chris Wray. “Rest assured that the security of the election, and safeguarding your vote is, and will continue to be one of our highest priorities,” Wray said.

In an acknowledgment that the tallying of election results may be delayed not by fraud but for legitimate reasons, Krebs said the outcome of the vote may not be known on Nov. 3 — “and that’s OK. But we’re going to need your patience until official results are announced.”

The Sentinel contacted the Northland & Hawkeye District of the Postal Service to get its take on how post offices in southern Minnesota are doing amid the pandemic and election year controversy. Communications specialist Nicole Hill referred to a press release.

It says DeJoy recently held a conference call with the National Association of Secretaries of State Election Committee as part of ongoing preparations for the November election.

The Postal Service states that during the call, DeJoy once again reiterated to the secretaries of state that delivering ballots entrusted to the Postal Service is the organization’s top priority between now and Election Day, and that the Postal Service is ready, willing and able to handle the nation’s election mail for those who decide to utilize the mail to vote. He underscored the Postal Service’s commitment to doing its part and partnering with state and local election officials as they work to ensure that voters who choose to vote by mail will do so effectively and have their ballots counted.

The Postal Service says DeJoy highlighted the high online engagement stemming from the USPS voter education postcard, noting that nearly three quarters of a million people visited https://www.usps.com/votinginfo/ looking to learn more about vote by mail best practices since the postcard was sent Sept. 10.

“The Postal Service’s continued coordination with state and local election officials helps ensure every ballot is successfully delivered and that every voter knows how to effectively use the mail to vote, if they choose to do so,” DeJoy said. “Above all, we want voters to know, if you plan to vote by mail, plan ahead. Visit your local election board website to understand state rules and deadlines so you can request your ballots early, if applicable, and mail them back early. The intent of our nationwide mailer was to encourage voters to inform themselves on how to effectively vote by mail if they choose to do so. That was our intent, and that continues to be our mission between now and Election Day.”

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