clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Postal Service says don’t worry about mail-in ballots, they’ll count

U.S. Postal Service letter carrier Heidi Barlow organizes mail that she will deliver from the post office in the Sugar House neighborhood of Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020.
U.S. Postal Service letter carrier Heidi Barlow organizes mail that she will deliver from the post office in the Sugar House neighborhood of Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds — to responsibly and reliably handle mail-in ballots.

While it’s not the official motto of the United States Postal Service, it may as well be, according to local postal and election officials nationwide.

For months, President Donald Trump has questioned the credibility of mail-in ballots and whether the Postal Service could reliably collect and deliver them in a timely manner that allow for a fair election count. Those baseless claims have raised some concerns among political supporters and drawn criticism from opponents.

In Utah, local postal officials Wednesday addressed those issues in an effort to reassure voters their mail-in ballots will be managed and processed appropriately.

“We’ve been meeting for quite some time now preparing for this. The volume increases that we’re expecting are about 2% from what our present daily volume is,” said U.S. Postmaster for Salt Lake City Steve Chaus. “Of course, it’s going to be spread out over a period of time, so it won’t impact just one day. But we’re ready to handle that volume. Even if it came on one day, we would be able to handle that volume with the capacities we have here in the Salt Lake City plant.”

He noted the agency has been performing these same duties for years in Salt Lake City, and like previous elections, this time around will be no different.

“It’s going to be similar to every other year we’ve processed without any issues,” he added.

“There is going to be concerns with the unknown,” Chaus said. “But I don’t think those concerns are going to be any issues that we can’t deal with anywhere across the country.”

He said the Postal Service monitors mail volumes daily, and with the elections coming up, adjustments can be made if volumes increase sufficiently. He said more sorting machines can be added to handle excess volume and collection schedules will be maintained as they usually would be.

Salt Lake Postmaster Steve Chaus talks about the U.S. Postal Service’s role in the vote-by-mail process in Utah during a press conference at the post office in the Sugar House neighborhood of Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020.
Salt Lake Postmaster Steve Chaus talks about the U.S. Postal Service’s role in the vote-by-mail process in Utah during a press conference at the post office in the Sugar House neighborhood of Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

“We may have to do early collections if the volume exceeds capacity in some of the boxes,” Chaus said. “But we will do whatever’s necessary to make sure the boxes are secure, the mail is secure that’s in those boxes and they’re picked up in a timely manner.”

Regarding the counting of those mail-in ballots, Utah voters should feel confident they will be recorded properly, said Carson Adams, an election coordinator with the Salt Lake County Elections Division.

“There’s a couple of things that some voters in Utah should be well aware of, No. 1 is that Utah is not a state in which the ballots need to be returned to us by Nov. 3. They don’t need to arrive in our possession by Election Day in order for them to be counted,” he explained. “Salt Lake County in particular has a two-week canvass period following the election during which time any book ballots that are postmarked by Nov. 2 — the day before Election Day — will be counted.”

He said voter turnout should be very similar to previous presidential elections, though it may be a bit higher. In any case, the county is ready to record each ballot that is cast, he said.

“We’ve been preparing for this election in Salt Lake County for many years. We’ve doubled a lot of our equipment, so we have two mail sorters that work at 18,000 ballots an hour so we can run through a lot of volume very quickly,” Adams said. “We’ve hired more staff to come on temporarily as support staff for this election and moved to a bigger space last year in the effort to prepare for this election.”

He also touted the numerous security measures instituted to ensure integrity of the voting process.

U.S. Postal Service letter carrier Heidi Barlow pushes a cart loaded with mail she will deliver from the post office in the Sugar House neighborhood of Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020.
U.S. Postal Service letter carrier Heidi Barlow pushes a cart loaded with mail she will deliver from the post office in the Sugar House neighborhood of Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

“All of our ballot tabulation equipment is totally air-gapped, meaning that it’s separate from any external network. It’s all contained in one locked room, so it’s literally separated from the rest of our process,” he said. “(As for) the ballots themselves, we’ve got everything monitored by camera, we have permanent staff members that monitor all of the support staff that we bring on to help process the ballots incoming. In terms of security, that’s always something that’s been very important to us — the digital security, the electronic security, our physical security and our facility.”

Regarding the reliability of mail-in ballots, Adams said it is among the most dependable voting methods available.

“Your ballot is a paper trail of who you voted for. We have your affidavit envelope that comes back to us. We archive that for 23 months after the election, and then we have a physical copy of your ballot,” he said. “It’s easy to audit both forms of voting as we have paper receipts of what you voted. It’s very easy to audit all of your paper ballots and you can actually check to see when your ballot has been received by our elections office online at the state’s voter website at vote.utah.gov.”

Mail-in ballots can also be dropped off at any one of 21 designated drop boxes throughout the county, he added.