How Long Would It Take to Send Ballots in the Mail? We Tested It

The NBC 6 Investigators along with other NBC owned stations put the speed of the mail system to the test.

The New York Times predicts 80 million people may vote by mail this November because of the coronavirus pandemic – nearly double the usual amount. That is why NBC 6 Investigators teamed up with NBC owned stations across the country to test the speed of the postal service.

NBC reporters from a dozen cities mailed 155 letters on a single Friday in mid-August to measure the U.S. Postal Service’s on-time performance. Though half the letters reached their destinations within two business days,  some have not arrived two weeks later. 

Across the country millions of people may vote by mail because of the coronavirus pandemic-- possibly double the usual amount. And it’s why the NBC 6 Investigators teamed up with NBC Owned stations across the country for a test — to see the speed of the mail system. Phil Prazan reports.

The slowdown in mail service has big implications for the November presidential election when a record number of voters are expected to cast mail ballots.

The unscientific test underscores complaints about the postal service’s performance, which were highlighted in recent congressional hearings.

NBC 6 Investigators found 70% of the letters arrived within two days. 94% percent arrived within four days. Almost 6% took five days to get to their destination or didn’t arrive at all.

Two of the 155 letters sent in our test, 1.3%, failed to arrive after 12 business days.

We performed the test around the same time people mailed in their votes for the August election. 

Per Florida law, county election departments must receive the ballots by 7 p.m. the night of election day. Ballots arriving past the deadline are not counted. 

NBC 6 Investigators found thousands of votes in South Florida were not counted because they arrived too late in August.

Miami-Dade County Supervisor of Elections confirms 4,064 ballots were not counted in the August election because they arrived after the deadline. 

Miami-Dade County Supervisor of Elections confirms 4,064 ballots were not counted because they arrived after the deadline. 

The Broward County Supervisor of Elections confirmed 2,767 vote-by-mail ballots arrived too late. The largest chunk came Thursday - two days after the election.

Jessica Laguerre Hylton lost the race for the Florida House District 117 by 221 votes in the Aug.18 election. She says votes delayed in the mail played a role in her race and many others in South Florida.

“Specifically in Florida, we are the butt of every joke when it comes to elections. This time we have an opportunity to get in front of it,” Laguerre Hylton said, arguing more should be done to make the public aware of the hard deadline.

She wants people to know about the number of mail-in ballots that were uncounted so they can be prepared for the upcoming election.

The Broward County Supervisor of Elections confirmed 2,767 vote-by-mail ballots in the August election arrived too late.

“Every single vote should count,” said Lagerre Hylton at a Wednesday press conference, asking the Florida Secretary of State to extend the deadline to midnight on election day. 

She joined a coalition of Republican candidates, other Democratic candidates, and advocates such as the NAACP to pressure the state to change the deadline. So far, the Florida Secretary of State has shown no interest in extending the deadline.

Every vote should matter. Let’s not act like we don’t know what we know.

Harold Ford from the South Dade NAACP

Six out of ten voters in Florida cast ballots by mail in August -  nearly double the rate of vote-by-mail voters in November 2016. The increase is more than enough to swing the state in November. 

Gov. Ron Desantis in 2018, President Trump in 2016, and then-President Obama in 2012 all won the state by less than 115,000 votes. 

Complaints about missing or delayed mail have become increasingly common since new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy took office in mid-June with a mandate to cut costs.

Postal Service documents released by the House Oversight Committee bear out the complaints of delayed mail. A PowerPoint presentation made for internal Postal Service use shows that the on-time performance record for presorted first-class mail – which for months had routinely approached 95% -- plunged in early July to about 85%.

In response to our test, a USPS spokesperson pointed to the testimony from the head of the postal service in front of Congress.

Tom Brenner-Pool/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 24: U.S. Postal Service Postmaster General Louis DeJoy testifies at a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing in the Rayburn House Office Building on August 24, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee is holding a hearing on "Protecting the Timely Delivery of Mail, Medicine, and Mail-in Ballots." (Photo by Tom Brenner-Pool/Getty Images)

“The postal service is fully committed and capable of delivering the nation’s ballots securely and on time,” DeJoy said at a Capitol Hill hearing. 

Postal Service staff said they deliver 433 million pieces of mail per day so if all Americans (330 million) were to vote-by-mail on the same day this year, it wouldn’t even be one day’s worth of mail. In short, staff told NBC 6 the service can handle the load. 

“Nevertheless, I encourage all Americans who vote by mail to request their ballots early and to vote early as a common sense best practice,” DeJoy said. 

DeJoy’s message was reinforced by local county elections supervisors. 

They say there will be some delayed ballots through the mail system so in order to get counted by the deadline, they recommend requesting your ballot and sending it as soon as you can. 

While all states allow voters to cast ballots by mail under some circumstances, this year, a record nine states plan to conduct their elections mostly or exclusively by mail.

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