August 25, 2020


By Neal A. Shipman

Farmer Editor

As if the United States Postal Service (USPS) wasn’t already struggling with delivering mail to the hundreds of millions of individuals and businesses that rely on it, the question now being asked is can the Postal System handle the increased volume of mail that would come from a surge of mail-in ballots associated with this November’s presidential election.
As with all things that become the news during a presidential election, the USPS has now become the center of a political firestorm as both Republicans and Democrats take sides on the prospect of a record number of voters choosing to vote by mail versus in person due to COVID-19.
While Democrats appear to be supporting a massive mail-in ballot process this year to limit the spread of the coronavirus, Republicans are concerned that the shift away from in person voting will increase voter fraud.
The only common concern both parties seem to share is whether or not the postal system can guarantee that all mailed ballots will be processed in a timely manner.
But the reality is that considering the USPS is already handling far less mail than usual due to a decline in mail as a result of COVID-19, a surge in mail-in ballots this fall may not tax the Postal Service nearly as much as it would in a normal year.
Between April and June, the volume of marketing mail, such as catalogs and fliers, dropped 36 percent compared with the same period last year, and the amount of first-class mail also fell. So the Postal Service has the capacity to handle an increased volume of mail that could happen with an increased volume due to the pandemic.
The big question that no one can answer is what will happen if all of the mail ballots come in a giant rush as is expected to happen during this fall’s national election. In that case, the Postal System, just like any business, will have a difficult time reacting to a dramatic surge in business volume.
The Postal System is assuring members of Congress and the public that it can adequately handle the mail ballots. But there are still a lot of things that can go wrong at election time, most notably a COVID-19 outbreak at any of the postal processing centers that would delay mail by days or possibly weeks.
But those assurances aren’t any good if Americans must wait days or weeks after the November Election to learn who the President of the United States is or who won other federal, state or local elections.
Obviously, the best way for voters to cast their ballots come November is to do so at the polls. But during these uncertain times with COVID-19, the best bet for Americans who decide that they want to vote by mail is to request and complete their ballots as early as possible. The more time that they give the Postal System, the better.