Although the U.S. Postal Service has warned West Virginia there’s risk some absentee ballots might not be processed in time to be counted, some members of the state’s congressional delegation say they aren’t alarmed.
Asked about Post Office concerns this week, Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., expressed confidence the situation will be worked out. Congressman Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., suggested the concern has been overblown.
Whether the Post Office can process a historic number of mail-in ballots in timely fashion has become a major controversy over the past few weeks.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy will testify Friday before U.S. Senators. Critics have focused on cost-cutting measures and claims of widespread mail delays. DeJoy this week announced he will suspend controversial changes until after the General Election.
At least 21 states were planning to sue the Post Office and DeJoy over operational changes made ahead of the election including the removal of Post Office dropboxes and sorting machines.
In a statement Tuesday, Manchin said DeJoy’s decision to hold off on any changes until after November is “a step in the right direction, but actions speak louder than words.
“The Postal Service must immediately reinstate all critical machines and equipment that have been idled or removed from operation since Mr. DeJoy’s tenure began and extend this moratorium on major changes through the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes no closures of post offices, no reduction in hours, and the continued treatment of election mail as first-class mail,” he added.
During an appearance Tuesday with Gov. Jim Justice, Capito and Mooney were asked what assurances they could offer that West Virginians who ask for absentee ballots will have them processed by the Post Office in a timely manner.
Capito acknowledged the controversy and described some efforts to shore up the postal system.
“I think that’s obviously a huge topic of discussion,” Capito said, describing financial investment into both the Postal Service — including $10 million in borrowing authority — and elections security.
“I have faith that the postal system will and can deliver our ballots on time, safely and so that our elections will be secure and counted in the proper time frame on Election Day.”
Capito did advise West Virginians who want absentee ballots to request them early. “The encouragement is to do it, do it as soon as you possibly can. That would be my recommendation.
“I have faith and I’m sorry that we’ve got this controversy with the Post Office, quite frankly, but I think we’re on the way to smoothing it out and hopefully regain the faith that our ballots will get there on time, safely and be counted in the proper manner.”
DeJoy, a close ally of the president and a Republican fundraiser, has overseen policy changes to ban overtime work and extra routes taken by postal carriers to deliver the mail on time.
The president ignited further controversy when he appeared on Fox Business Network and argued against $25 billion in additional funding for the Postal Service because of his opposition to “universal” mail-in voting.
“(Democrats) 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. “If they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting because they’re not equipped to have it.
Trump added, “Now, if we don’t make a deal that means they don’t get the money. That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting. They just can’t have it. So, you know, sort of a crazy thing.”
Trump this morning why he won’t fund US Postal Service. “Now they need that money in order to make the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots … But if they don’t get those two items that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting.” pic.twitter.com/73NBmSnoNC
— The Recount (@therecount) August 13, 2020
Critics have taken those comments to mean the president would like to stifle the Post Office’s ability to process mail-in ballots.
Mooney, in comments at the briefing with Justice this week, suggested concerns have been exaggerated and that the Trump administration has actually been trying to help the Postal Service.
“President Trump was simply trying to make the government work more efficient. These changes have been discussed for a long time, but they put them on hold so there’s a lot of misunderstanding, misinterpretation — I think intentionally, I think to attack the president,” Mooney said.
The congressman also cited recent comments by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, that in-person voting may be done safely with social distancing precautions.
“I did vote by mail in the primary,” Mooney said. “I intend to vote in person in November. As long as you can maintain social distancing and take the precautions, voting in person is still the most secure, efficient way to do it. But you can vote by mail. There should be no problems if you choose to do that.”
The Postal Service sent letters to 46 states in late July, warning that even if voters follow local guidelines their mail-in ballots might not be processed in time to count if they procrastinate. West Virginia was one of the states.
West Virginia’s letter from the Post Office says deadlines for requesting and casting mail-in ballots don’t match the time required to process the mail.
“This mismatch creates a risk that ballots requested near the deadline under state law will not be returned by mail in time to be counted under your laws as we understand them,” wrote Thomas Marshall, general counsel and executive vice president for the U.S. Postal Service.
In West Virginia’s delayed Primary Election, about 261,000 voters requested absentee ballots. Of those, nearly 225,000 filled out those ballots and mailed them in.
West Virginia’s Secretary of State’s Office has opened an online portal to request an absentee ballot for the Nov. 3 General Election. The deadline is Oct. 28.
The office has advised people to use the portal to reduce the amount of time required to complete the process from start to finish. Once absentee ballots go out in the mail beginning on September 18, voters can track their absentee ballot ab GoVoteWV.com.
The Secretary of State’s Office is advising West Virginians who want to vote by mail to do so as soon as possible.
“Just as we did in the Primary Election, we’re encouraging all absentee voters to submit their ballots before the deadlines to protect against any delays,” said Mike Queen, communications director for the Secretary of State’s Office.
“In West Virginia, our laws are far more accommodating for absentee voters than other states. Nonetheless, voters who can vote early, should vote early, to avoid unanticipated postal delays.”