On August 3 2020, a Facebook user shared the following status update, which advises readers to submit their mail-in ballots to the Board of Elections directly — based on “an inside tip from a postal worker”:
Don’t mail ballots in. Drop at board of elections. This is an inside tip from a postal worker. “Can’t say any more than that.”
That post offered an additional method of submitting ballots:
Don’t mail ballots in. Drop at board of elections or a polling site.
This is an inside tip from a postal worker. “Can’t say any more than that.”
That poster credited a Twitter user, @wvjoe911, with the commentary. On August 10 2020, @wvjoe911 tweeted:
Don’t mail ballots in. Drop at board of elections or a polling site. This is an inside tip from a postal worker. "Can’t say any more than that."
— 🇺🇸🌊JoeInWV 🌊🇺🇸 (@wvjoe911) August 10, 2020
This is an Inside Tip from a Postal Worker. ‘Can’t Say Any More Than That.’
All three iterations we located had nearly identical wording, all citing an “inside tip from a postal worker, who can’t say more than that.”
It wasn’t clear if all three referenced the same “inside tip from a postal worker” who “can’t say more than that” (one with broad reach on social media), or if that detail was tacked on to lend plausibility to the claims. In any event, the “inside tip from a postal worker” was impossible to verify.
United States Postal Service Delays in August 2020
All three posts were shared between August 3 and August 12 2020; at the same time, reports of slowdowns involving the United States Postal Service started appearing from all over.
On August 7 2020, Vox reported:
The United States Postal Service is dealing with crippling backlogs of letters and packages. A postmaster in upstate New York recently told their union that the regular mail was two days behind and, for the first time in their career, Express Priority Mail was not going out on time. Despite a surge in package delivery during the pandemic, postal workers are no longer able to work overtime, and fewer mail trucks are on the road. If your own mail seems delayed or unpredictable, it’s not a one-off problem.
On August 12 2020, Reuters covered USPS backlogs and delays:
[A USPS] reorganization, introduced in July , has resulted in thousands of delayed letters in southern Maine, as delivery drivers follow a new directive to leave on time, even if the mail has not been loaded, said Scott Adams, who represents about 550 workers as the president of American Postal Worker Union Local 458.
Another new directive requires mail carriers to head out on their routes immediately in the morning, carrying only packages and letters that were sorted the night before, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters. That is requiring some carriers to double back to pick up a second batch later in the day, said Kimberly Karol, president of the Iowa Postal Workers Union.
“It is on the ground costing more in manpower and man-hours than it is saving,” Karol said.
US Democratic Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan and postal workers are accusing Postmaster General Louis DeJoy of forcing workers to leave their work unfinished in order to slow down mail service.
Those delays come as the country grapples with the coronavirus pandemic and looks ahead to the presidential election.
In a press conference Monday morning [August 10 2020], Peters noted that he has heard from hundreds of Michigan residents who say they have had sudden delays in vital mail service.
That same day, a tech-centric site reported the ongoing USPS delays could have a major effect on “Amazon Prime Day” shopping and shipping. On August 11 2020, CNBC reported small businesses were being disproportionately harmed by nationwide USPS slowdowns:
This year , small businesses have dealt with COVID-19 related closures and restrictions, and now they’re facing shipping delays.
“Things are not right from a shipping perspective, and it’s really, really critical to our business while we can’t have as many clients in the store to be able to ship on time,” said Laurie Molton, founder of House of Lolo, located on El Paseo.
With an uncertain retail market, several shops have moved a majority of inventory online.
But owners say delays through the United States Postal Service are impacting not only when customers receive their orders, but when stores get their inventory as well.
“Being on a website, it’s very important to keep your product fresh and with new things constantly going. So when we have nothing new to put on the website it makes it a little complicated,” said Morgan Rooney, manager of Blonde Clothing Boutique, located on El Paseo.
Across the country, regional and national news organizations covered the myriad slowdowns and delays in USPS service in August 2020.
‘Don’t Mail Ballots in. Drop at Board of Elections or a Polling Site.’
As of August 2020, it was unclear whether the reported USPS delays would persist through November 2020 and the general election.
All three posts advised social media users to avoid USPS for submitting mail-in ballots. Two suggested dropping mail ballots off at a polling place, and either suggestion would bypass USPS entirely to ensure that ballots were placed directly in the hands of Board of Elections employees.
Is it Possible to Drop Ballots off at the Board of Elections or a Polling Place?
Each state had its own guidelines for mail-in voting; many have made provisions for the COVID-19 pandemic. According to USA.gov, voters ought to check in with their local Board of Elections for information about those procedures regardless of advice gleaned from statements and claims made on Twitter:
Coronavirus and Voting by Mail-In Absentee Ballot
States are making it easier for citizens to vote absentee by mail this year due to the coronavirus. Every state’s election rules are different. And each state has its own rules for mail-in absentee voting. Many are still in the process of deciding how they will handle voting during the pandemic. Visit your state election office website to find out if you can vote by mail. Can I Vote takes you right to your state’s absentee voting page.
For voters within the United States, USA.gov explains:
Get your absentee ballot from your state or territory.
Visit Can I Vote and choose your state from the dropdown menu. It will take you right to your state’s absentee voting page.
Your state may require you to have a valid excuse to vote absentee. Acceptable excuses vary by state. Most include:
- Being unable to get to your polling place due to illness, injury, or disability.
- Being on business travel or vacation outside of your county or city of residence on Election Day
- Being a student at an out-of-state college or university
- This table shows which states require an excuse and the excuses each state will accept.
Follow your state’s instructions for requesting an absentee or vote-by-mail ballot.
Most of the answers were state-specific. One Arizona voting resource advised voters to mail ballots or drop them off:
HOW TO RETURN AN EARLY BALLOT
You should always plan to mail back your ballot at least 7 days prior to election day, to ensure it is received by the county in time. The United States Post Office recommends 7 days for returning ballots by mail, which is first class mail. Postage is pre-paid so all you have to do is drop your signed and sealed ballot envelope in the mail.
Drop it Off:
If you don’t have enough time to mail your ballot back or prefer to return it in person, you have several options:
You can drop your ballot off at any in-person early voting locations, including the County Recorder’s Office or Elections Office.
Some counties have secured ballot drop boxes. You can drop your ballot off in any ballot drop box in your county.
You can drop your ballot off at any voting location in your county on Election Day. No need to wait in line. Just head straight inside the voting location and drop it in the early ballot bin. You can get an I Voted sticker too!
However you decide to return your ballot, just remember to SIGN IT and that the county RECEIVES it by 7:00 p.m. on Election Day.
Ballot Drop Box [PDF] This document outlines things to know and consider when planning for the use of ballot drop boxes including general considerations, recommendations on closing boxes, and security considerations. A drop box is a secure, locked structure operated by election officials where voters may deliver their ballots from the time they receive them in the mail up to the time polls close on Election Day.
The linked PDF began:
A ballot drop box provides a secure and convenient means for voters to return their mail ballot. A drop box is a secure, locked structure operated by election officials where voters may deliver their ballots from the time they receive them in the mail up to the time polls close on Election Day. Ballot drop boxes can be staffed or unstaffed, temporary or permanent.
EAC also explained:
Some voters prefer to deliver their mail ballots to a drop box rather than sending them back through the mail. These voters may be motivated by lack of trust in the postal process, fear that their ballot could be tampered with, or concern that their signature will be exposed. Voters may also be concerned about meeting the postmark deadline and ensuring that their ballot is returned in time to be counted.
Ballot drop boxes and drop-off locations allow voters to deliver their ballots in person. More importantly, the availability of ballot drop boxes and drop-off locations ensures that even voters who wait until the last minute to vote or who receive their requested ballot in the mail at the last minute will be able to return their ballots in time to be counted.
EAC included important information for anyone planning to submit a mail-in ballot via drop box or to their Board of Elections — primarily that not all polling places accept mail-in ballots:
Voters who are unable to return a ballot in person or get it to a postal facility in time for it to be counted may, depending on state law, may be able to entrust the voted ballot to someone else to help them deliver it—an agent or designee.
Many of these last-minute voters drop their ballot off at a voting location (which may not be allowed by state law). Setting up ballot drop boxes and educating voters to use them mitigates a number of COVID-19-related risks associated with in-person voting. It also minimizes the number of people that will need to access voting locations, thereby providing more space for those who are engaged in in-person voting.
Posts on Facebook and Twitter about an “inside tip from a postal worker” who “can’t say more” advised voters to avoid using USPS to submit mail-in ballots as of August 2020. However, it was no secret that United States Postal Service delays emerged as a major issue in August 2020, and that the heavy anticipated volume of mail-in votes were a growing concern. As the posts described, it is true that voters often have the ability to directly submit ballots to their Board of Elections or polling place. Procedures varied by state, and voters who wished to bypass USPS for mail-in ballots were best advised to obtain jurisdiction-specific information from their local Boards of Elections well before November 2020.