Friday, May 01, 2009

Post Office Fumbles District 4 Absentee Ballot Applications

According to Pew Center's Election Line, the U.S. Postal Service failed to deliver 314 special election absentee ballot applications in its custody by the county Board of Elections deadline.

The article states:

On April 15, the Montgomery County Board of Elections had received 314 absentee ballot applications that had been postmarked up to two weeks earlier, more than 10 percent of which had already been opened and stapled shut.

Alarmed, Deputy Election Director Sara Harris brought samples to the post office and learned that each had been processed as incoming mail in the USPS Shady Grove Distribution Center between the dates of April 1 and 7. The envelopes should then have been sent by truck less than 5 miles to the post office in the county seat of Rockville, then placed in a dedicated post office box for absentee ballot applications that has its own 9-digit ZIP code.

However, the postal service does not track envelopes after they have left the distribution center. As a result, election officials and postal inspectors can only speculate on where these absentee applications – postmarked over the course of a week – were actually sent and how they made it back into the mail system where they were processed as incoming mail for a second time in the early morning on April 15th.
Jurgensen’s first worry is that more than 300 envelopes, which were clearly marked and barcoded for the Board of Elections with the proper 9-digit ZIP, were sent to the wrong address over the course of an entire week. Her second worry is that such a large volume of misdirected mail was then reintroduced to the mail stream without any way of flagging or tracking it.

“From their testimony before the Board,” says [Board of Elections Director Margaret] Jurgensen, “it was clear that the U.S. Postal Service does not know if the envelopes were put into a blue box or if someone hand-delivered them back to Rockville or Shady Grove. That was astounding to me”.
Jurgensen told her employees to contact every voter who sent in an application to tell them they could vote by in-person absentee or on election day. The article does not state how many voters who asked for an absentee ballot application actually went on to vote by other means.

Both the Kramer and Navarro campaigns prioritized absentee voting and the race is coming down to dozens of votes. Will the Kramer campaign use this as grounds for a legal challenge? We are also reminded of the Navarro campaign's allegations that its mail pieces were left to sit in boxes on order from a post office manager. Those allegations now seem more credible given the temporary loss of the absentee ballot applications.

We have always believed the best thing about elections is that they end. Let's amend that to "if they end."