Postal delays could cause trouble for Michigan’s primary election

Clerks fear that a rush of mail-in ballots and delays in postal delivery could plague the Aug. 4 primary. (Shutterstock image)

Michigan is one of 13 states with an absentee ballot request deadline close enough to the election that there’s a “high risk” ballots won’t be delivered to voters before the election, according to an audit by the U.S. Postal Service’s internal watchdog.

The findings came shortly before a national policy change that’s likely to further slow down mail delivery before Tuesday’s primary.

And while elections and postal officials maintain election-related mail will be expedited, some Michigan clerks are already reporting mail delays and worry they may impact not only the primary but the Nov. 3 general election as well.

Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum said it’s recently taken more than three weeks for her to send death certificates and other mail even within a 15-mile radius. 

“If it’s grandma’s medication now, it’s likely going to be ballots later,” Byrum said, referring to mail delays. “It’s extraordinarily concerning when we’re coming into election season when any mail slows down.”

The stakes are high: In Michigan, it doesn’t matter when you send your ballot, only when it’s received. Ballots that reach local clerks after Election Day don’t count, even if they’re postmarked before it. 

How to check if clerks received your ballot

Election officials recommend voters drop mail-in ballots off in person at their local clerk’s office or in a drop box to ensure they count in the Aug. 4 primary election. 

If you mailed it and want to ensure it reached your clerk, check here by entering your voter registration information. If it hasn’t been received by the end of the week, many local officials recommend you go into the clerk’s office over the weekend or on Monday before 4 p.m. to spoil your old ballot and cast a new one in person.

Sparked by 2018 reforms allowing no-reason absentee voting and the coronavirus, an unprecedented number of people are voting by mail in Michigan’s 2020 elections. They were helped by Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who used $4.5 million in federal funds to mail absentee ballot applications to the state’s 7.7 million registered voters.

As of Tuesday — one week before the primary — the total number of returned ballots was 903,717, nearly three times the 307,253 returned at the same time in 2016. Nearly 2 million people have requested mail-in ballots, more than 3 ½  times the 540,271 requested at the same time in 2016.

That 2018 policy expanding voting rights also extended deadlines for people to register to vote and to request absentee ballots. Now, the last day to request a ballot for the August election in the mail is Friday. 

However, that leaves only three mailing days for voters to receive the ballot and return it to the clerk. On average, mail delivery takes two to five days depending on location. 

“In our opinion, ballots requested less than seven days before an election are at a high risk of not being delivered, completed by voters, and returned to the election offices in time,” read a July report by the USPS Office of Inspector General reviewing mail-in voting in Milwaukee.

The report followed an internal investigation requested by Wisconsin lawmakers who feared absentee ballots weren’t delivered quickly enough in the state’s April election. The Inspector General found that the postal service had failed to deliver hundreds of ballots.

Meanwhile, several clerks who spoke with Bridge said they’re hearing of unusually slow mail delivery. Kent County Clerk Lisa Posthumus Lyons, a Republican, and Macomb County Clerk Fred Miller, a Democrat, said some local clerks in their counties are reporting postal delays. 

New Baltimore City Clerk Marcia Shinska said she’s received around a dozen calls from voters in the last several weeks saying they hadn’t received a requested absentee ballot despite her office sending it out more than two weeks beforehand. 

To combat these potential delays, Benson and other election officials are encouraging voters to drop off their absentee ballot to their local clerks in person. 

“This close to the primary, Michiganders should return their absentee ballots to their clerk’s office directly, or submit them via their local ballot drop box, in order to ensure their vote is counted,” Benson said in a press release Tuesday. The department also recommended voters who haven’t yet requested a ballot go in to their clerk to get one rather than request it be sent in the mail. 

Voters can see if there’s a ballot drop box in their community here

The Postal Service has raised similar flags in recent months. In a letter to elections officials from late May, USPS General Counsel Thomas Marshall wrote that if a state requires ballots be received by Election Day, “voters should be aware of the possibility that completed ballots mailed less than a week before that date may not, in fact, arrive by the state's deadline.”

And if a state allows ballot requests shortly before Election Day, as Michigan does, “voters should be made aware that the absentee ballot may not reach the voter before Election Day if requested less than a week before the election.”

The complaints follow a recent cost-cutting change from U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. President Donald Trump had previously derided the postal service as inefficient and costly. 

Before the change, postal workers would stay in distribution centers until all of the mail for their route was sorted and ready to be sent out, said Michigan Postal Workers Union President Michael Mize. They may not leave until 10 a.m., but they’d ensure everyone on their route gets their mail that day. 

Under the new policy, postal workers are required to leave the distribution center by 9 a.m., regardless of whether all the mail for their route is sorted that day. Whatever isn’t ready is pushed to the next day’s delivery. Agency leaders hope this reduces costs for overtime and multiple trips to ensure timely delivery, Mize said. 

“Eventually this [is] going to cause long-term, large delays if we don’t do something,” Mize said. 

Mize predicted the longest mail delays may be experienced by those who live near the largest distribution centers in the state. The biggest is the Michigan Metroplex in Pontiac, but other large centers are in Detroit and Grand Rapids.

Spokespeople for USPS and the Secretary of State’s office said ballots and other election-related mail shouldn’t be affected by any delays because the agency requires postal workers to sift out ballots and other election-related mail and prioritize it for processing. 

Elizabeth Najduch, spokesperson for USPS’ Detroit District, said the agency “is committed to delivering election mail in a timely manner” and that it uses “a robust and proven process” to ensure proper handling of election mail. 

However, there were “some delays in which mailpiece design issues may have been a factor” in Michigan’s presidential primary election in March, she said, which “were addressed with local election officials.”

Michigan Secretary of State spokesperson Jake Rollow said the agency has worked with postal service to redesign ballot mailings to fit postal service specifications so they can be identified and processed quickly. 

“We’re in daily communication with the postal service here in Michigan, and what they’re doing on a daily basis is clearing their system of ballots,” he said. “They’re working every day to ensure that ballots aren’t sitting overnight with them but that they’re moving each day.”

Still, Najduch said it’s incumbent upon voters to understand their state’s deadlines. She recommended voters request a ballot around two weeks before Election Day and mail it back at least one week beforehand. For August, it’s already too late to follow her guidance — for the Nov. 3 presidential election, that would mean requesting an absentee ballot by October 19 and sending it back by Oct. 27.

But some election officials’ concerns persist, including fears there could be worse ahead in the fall. 

Early in the pandemic, Postal Service leaders told lawmakers in Congress that the service was losing so much money it may collapse by September. The agency received some stimulus money in March, but Trump has threatened to withhold further funding if the agency doesn’t raise its prices. 

USPS is temporarily buoyed by an uptick in packages as Americans are stuck inside and are leaning more heavily on online retail. The Washington Post reported that with current package volumes, the agency won’t need a major financial bailout until October 2021. If those decrease, it may run out of money sooner.

Byrum of Ingham County said she fears the agency could face insolvency before the November election, which is “extremely concerning” for mail-in voting. 

Najduch of the Postal Service said the agency’s financial condition won’t impact its ability to deliver election mail. 

“The Postal Service has ample capacity to adjust our nationwide processing and delivery network to meet projected election and political mail volume,” she said.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Wed, 07/29/2020 - 6:56pm

Just what Trump and his new hand-picked postmaster general want, sow chaos with our elections. Who needs Russia when you can break the system from within? Is this administration working for us?

Lakeshore fan
Wed, 07/29/2020 - 9:43pm

If she was so concerned about the Torch Lake party, she would of closed the bars sooner than a month later. Perhaps her family and fellow cottage guests are no longer vacationing up north!

Thu, 07/30/2020 - 3:52pm

This thread is about the postal service, but hey I'll take the bait. Maybe Lee Chatfield was still vacationing with his family on Mackinac Island, unconcerned about the pandemic or our safety.

Lakeshore fan
Wed, 07/29/2020 - 9:51pm

If she was so concerned about the Torch Lake party, she would of closed the bars sooner than a month later. Perhaps her family and fellow cottage guests are no longer vacationing up north!

George Hagenauer
Thu, 07/30/2020 - 8:55am

First the problem is way bigger than ballots and threatens a lot of small businesses on the web. In terms of the ballots- a key thing in timely delivery is whether or not the place your ballot is going is in the same zip code as where you mailed it. In those cases the mail stays in your zipcode - so here in Ypsilanti the city hall is in 48198 -mail inside that zip for that zip never leaves the zip and supposedly the mail in 48197 especially ballots is pulled if it is for Ypsi. However in a bigger area like Detroit or some other place with lots of zip codes it goes to the regional which often isn't even within the county. When I worked in Madison Wi. anything sent outside our zip was sorted in Milwaukee 100 miles away. Currently Detroit regional at Allendale is a mess due to the virus and this will get worse due to the changes by the new Trump appointed postal chief. On the larger scale the change next week seem to be affecting packages. I ship a small amount on a weekly basis. Have had minimal problems over the last 30 years . Last week i had a package trashed, one for which a tracking number seems to not exist and several with long delays even for the virus. If that is the norm it will negatively impact most small businesses sales on the net and that is where the economy is these days. A lot of these places are also hometown main street businesses. Finally a possible rates solution is raising rural delivery rates that will have a major impact on rural communities which depend more on the mail service due to longer distances to stores and often limited or no options for buying a lot of items. This is a major issue and far bigger than the election and ballots as bad as that may be . Rural areas especially are at risk given that they are the most expensive places for the other corporate delivery services t o serve.

So sad
Thu, 07/30/2020 - 3:54pm

Thanks for the insight. We are in deep doo doo.

James tomlinson
Thu, 07/30/2020 - 9:00am

Arguably america’s most beloved, useful, necessary, efficient institution

Save the USPS
Thu, 07/30/2020 - 3:56pm

Yet the USPS is most disdained by the GOP. They want to end it, privatize it. Not something Trump's loyal fans in rural America should like, but they often vote against their own self interests.

Thu, 07/30/2020 - 9:45am

In the time between the primary election on Aug 4th and the general election on Nov 3rd, it might benefit everyone if a writer looked at the current voting system and explained the pros and cons, and terminology used for different types of voting.

I have used absentee voting for many years and mostly understand the checks used in that system to insure integrity. Is absentee voting the same as mail-in voting? If yes, why use two different terms to describe it, and if not, what are the differences. Is there one rule that all clerks must follow in how they run the elections, or is the state rule very general wording that allows each clerk to set their own rules? What checks are in place to insure integrity when outsiders are allowed to assist voters? I am particularly concerned with so called voter harvesting in dementia care and facilities for the aged where people may not even know their own relatives, much less what a ballot is and how to mark it. In our somewhat mobile society, how are voter rolls reconciled to insure ballot applications go to and are returned by the registered person? What checks are required to even register to vote? I know my son was not asked for any form of identification when he registered many years ago. How is same day registration handled to insure integrity?

If anyone remembers the 1960 election between Kennedy and Nixon, Chicago results were late and eventually swung the election to Kennedy. Studies by college professors after the fact showed that there were process deficiencies among the many public housing tracts. An interesting book is “Gang Leader for a Day”, showing how gangs, Aldermen, and Clerks all colluded to insure election results.

Thu, 07/30/2020 - 11:23am

If those Chicago “gangs, Aldermen, and Clerks all colluded”, then they saved us from Nixon in 1960. Too bad they didn’t collude to save us from Trump in 2016. Instead, the Electoral College colluded to dump Trump on us. The difference is merely semantics.

Thu, 07/30/2020 - 9:01pm

Thank goodness for the Constitution. You do believe in the Constitution, don’t you? Every person who has retirement savings of any form benefited greatly from Trump being President, and don’t say the recent pandemic caused interruption in our economy would have fared better under a democrat. People who work of any creed or color enjoyed the lowest unemployment under Trump. Small business enjoyed relief from suffocating regulations, which may be necessary in some form for huge businesses, but not for the Mom and Pop stores on Main Street. And if you fault Trump for pandemic deaths, don’t forget all that Cuomo and Whitmer caused by their handling of nursing homes, and their lack of use of provided alternatives like the Javits Center in New York, the Surburban Showcase in Michigan, and the 2 hospital ships in NY and Los Angeles.

Math Sux
Sun, 08/02/2020 - 2:54pm

Don't confuse people with facts. I am done even trying to sway those who lean even slightly left; the "Orange Man Bad" mantra is stuck in their heads and no amount of data will convince them otherwise. As a nation, we are in for a tough slog if the opposition wins the next cycle.

Reality TV Pres Sux
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 10:07am

You know what really must suck for someone like you? It must really suck to see Trump's dismal poll numbers and know that you are in a small minority. Yes, most American see Trump and think: Orange Man Bad. Why not? Everything about him screams failure, incompetence, and sociopath.

Given the consistently falling poll numbers for Trump, if the congress, senate in particular, truly reflected the will of We the People, Trump would have been not only impeached, but evicted. He knows it and so do you. That is why he now says he wants to stay in office without an election. Even Putin had his stooges change the law for that! Not Trump, he will do it the traditional despotic way, just declare martial law.

For the vast majority of Americans, THAT "sux". Grow up and get some scruples.

I call BS
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 9:29am

"Small business enjoyed relief from suffocating regulations, which may be necessary in some form for huge businesses, but not for the Mom and Pop stores on Main Street." Have you been to the Midland area lately. Those regulations needed to be stronger, not what you advocate. Enough is enough.

I think Obama said it best recently. We ARE the Founding Fathers of a MORE PERFECT UNION. Our country is a huge mess and Republicans are making things worse rather than better. Just look at the rest of the world when facing the SAME problems. American exceptionalism???? Please, not for being the worst, for being the best. Even Melania is begging for us to "Be Best" despite her husband's failures.

No thanks
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 9:52am

First of all, how many people have retirement savings? My bank account pay virtually zero in interest and my 401K is like a Las Vegas gamble, still in nosedive. I have made 20% less income each year that Trump has been in office. When Obama was president, Republicans complained that the recovery from the Bush depression wasn't happening fast enough. I was glad to see slow and steady progress year after year. Trump has been a complete failure regarding the economy and EVERYTHING else. He seems to be trying to reinvent the USA in the authoritarian Soviet model that Putin wants.

Fri, 07/31/2020 - 10:45am

But they set us up for the big lie of the Gulf of Tonkin and a black granite wall on the DC mall.
You are probably cheering on the destruction going on in Portland and Seattle and treatment of police there and in New York.
You sound like one of those who only care about what you want and the rule of law be damned, you want all the benefits but want none of the discipline a successful society requires. Your attitude and lack of respect for the rights of others is the reason Trump won in 2016, and may just win again this year.

Upset Stomach
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 9:59am

To be fair, in Trump's inauguration speech, he spoke of carnage. Seemed odd at the time, not something any other president thought about, but Trump got his wish. Little did we know he would be gassing and shooting rubber bullets at our fellow Americans over graffiti, adding fuel to fires everywhere while hiding in his WH bunker. Somehow these things seem fine and normal to his Republican enablers. John James said he's "2,000%" behind Trump! Please, NO MORE Trump or Trump sycophants!!!!

middle of the mit
Thu, 07/30/2020 - 11:53am

If the President and the Republican party would stop conflating the way they themselves vote, there probably wouldn't be the confusion and conspiracy theories that are out there.

I would think, YES. Absentee and mail in voting are the same. You are voting by mail either way, aren't you? The reason two different names? Because up until no reason absentee passed, you had to have a reason to vote by mail absentee. In Oregon and Washington, it is all mail in, therefore they call it mail in voting. We probably chose no reason absentee because it goes over better with Republicans because of all the older people that vote republican know that system and are familiar and trust it........until this year, when The President says things like this;

With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???

If you check your ballot, you will see that there are only a handful of people that are allowed to take your ballot to the ballot box and there is no ballot harvesting. That is illegal here.

There are plenty of checks as to how a person registers and yes, you do need some type of identification even if it is just a utility bill.

Yes, we know that there were plenty of "gangs" that stopped people from voting.

Freed by Court Ruling, Republicans Step Up Effort to Patrol Voting

Officials seek to recruit 50,000 poll watchers and spend millions to fight voter fraud. Democrats say the real goal is to stop them from voting.

The efforts are bolstered by a 2018 federal court ruling that for the first time in nearly four decades allows the national Republican Party to mount campaigns against purported voter fraud without court approval. The court ban on Republican Party voter-fraud operations was imposed in 1982, and then modified in 1986 and again in 1990, each time after courts found instances of Republicans intimidating or working to exclude minority voters in the name of preventing fraud. The party was found to have violated it yet again in 2004.

They seem pretty similar, don't they?

Enough Nonsense
Thu, 07/30/2020 - 4:00pm

Um, yes, your signature has to match the one on your Driver's License. So everyone should be able to vote the way you have been voting for years.

Thu, 07/30/2020 - 11:07am

What are the expectations we have for our elections?
Is it for ease of voting or is it for timeliness of results?
Is it for the convenience of the Parties or is it for accuracy of the voting?

I will cast my ballot on election day at my local polling place, so in my small way to voice my desire for an accurate count in a clear and timely manner.

So excited
Thu, 07/30/2020 - 4:06pm

Thankfully, we will be able to put our mail-in ballots in a designated voting box in our city, without going to a poll or mailing it. The primary will be a trial run for our family. Fingers crossed because November is too important a time to work out these problems. We pray to God Trump retires.

Understand GOP fear
Mon, 08/03/2020 - 10:12am

Same here, voted by mail for the first time. Such a great option! Thanks, Secretary Benson, best SOS ever!

middle of the mit
Thu, 07/30/2020 - 4:14pm

The reason is buried deeeeep in the article.

[[[The complaints follow a recent cost-cutting change from U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. President Donald Trump had previously derided the postal service as inefficient and costly.

Before the change, postal workers would stay in distribution centers until all of the mail for their route was sorted and ready to be sent out, said Michigan Postal Workers Union President Michael Mize. They may not leave until 10 a.m., but they’d ensure everyone on their route gets their mail that day.

Under the new policy, postal workers are required to leave the distribution center by 9 a.m., regardless of whether all the mail for their route is sorted that day. Whatever isn’t ready is pushed to the next day’s delivery. Agency leaders hope this reduces costs for overtime and multiple trips to ensure timely delivery, Mize said.

“Eventually this [is] going to cause long-term, large delays if we don’t do something,” Mize said.

Mize predicted the longest mail delays may be experienced by those who live near the largest distribution centers in the state. The biggest is the Michigan Metroplex in Pontiac, but other large centers are in Detroit and Grand Rapids.]]]]

Others say it is last mile delivery for UPS, Fed Ex and other delivery services. Guess which areas are the most costly for last mile delivery? LOL!!!

I have and will drop my ballot off at my polling place because it is my right to do so. I believe that voting is an important part of being a citizen and if you don''t vote- you can't complain. I believe voting should be easy AND timely for results and there is no better way to do that than allow people to vote when they can, not saved up for one day when some may not be able to make it to the polls because of work or home situations.

Also, it would be extremely easy for me to make assumptions about how easy it is to vote at your polling place because I have less than 5,000 voting aged people in my precinct. And it's not like any of my polling places are going to be shut down or there will be a line 1,000 or more people long.

Your situation may not apply to others.

Get your absentee ballot and return it to your designated drop box!


Fri, 07/31/2020 - 12:42am

I had to use an absentee ballot once and as I recall it was bigger than a normal letter and smaller that a full size page, it was specially marked as a ballot and had the Clerk's address including 9 digit ZIP code. As best I can recall all mail is to have a ZIP code and the ZIP codes have been scanned by machines for a couple of generations. I believe the hand sorting that the mail carriers do is for individual address numbers within the ZIP code. That leads me to believe that the ballots will be distinctive and going to a single address with the community ZIP codes, so it would seem that only one carrier would be getting all of the community ballots and will be putting them into a basket rather then carrying them in a pouch, I guess you have never had the time to talk to you postal worker about the processing mail and how technology has even reached into the postal system.

middle of the mit
Fri, 07/31/2020 - 12:29pm


Could you tell us what you are commenting on?

It's has nothing to do with my comment.

Fri, 07/31/2020 - 3:14pm

Your concern that there isn't enough time for carriers to sort all the mail in ballots, "Before the change, postal workers would stay in distribution centers until all of the mail for their route was sorted and ready to be sent out..."

middle of the mit
Fri, 07/31/2020 - 4:10pm

I understood that portion, but I used to have a mail carrier live next door to me. She didn't use a pouch. The back of her vehicle and the passenger seat was full of boxes that she would rotate out on her route.

It is the time it takes to sort out a whole vehicles worth of mail that takes all the time. When they sort the mail, unless they do make specific requirements to expedite ballot returns , it goes with the day and order they get it in. If you give people less time to do things, you get less done.

middle of the mit
Fri, 07/31/2020 - 8:10pm

addendum; also, you forgot to address the reason they needed to shorten the length of time it takes to do what it takes to get ALL of the mail that came that day, out that day.

Why are they cutting hours? Will the Trump administration cut the Constitutionally mandated service again or worse, let it go bankrupt/ dissolve it or sell it off ?

Who services rural America after that? Especially if it isn't cost effective? Which it isn't. That is why the private companies all USE the USPS in contract and in the worst definition of the word. It's why rural America doesn't have high speed internet, natural gas and other conveniences that those that live in more populated areas have, The Free Market doesn't deem them worthy of investment because there isn't enough profit involved.

And they don't understand that.

Sat, 08/01/2020 - 5:26pm

From what I have heard for years and years is that the USPS has a very large retirement program debt, so they keep trying to reduce costs to pay more into the retirement fund. My best guess they believe that by making USPS more efficient they will reduce cost and have more to pay for the retirement/pension program.

middle of the mit
Sun, 08/02/2020 - 7:58pm

The 2006 law also established a fund for Postal Service retiree health benefits. It required prepayment of those benefits according to a 50-year schedule, starting with 10 years of statutorily prescribed payments of roughly $5 billion from 2007 to 2017.

Previously, the service funded the benefits on a pay-as-you-go basis.

The act was passed by a Republican-led Congress. But it dealt with retiree health benefits, not pensions, said David Partenheimer, a spokesman for the Postal Service.

Mon, 08/03/2020 - 10:22am

duane is just trying to promote "drowning the government in a bathtub"* advocated by Republican kleptocrats for years. Anyone who follows this knows Republicans want to privatize the USPS and has been imposing highly unrealistic self-funding rules. Now more than ever, we see the importance of appropriately funding the USPS.

*Lobbyist Grover Norquist is a well-known proponent of the strategy and has famously said, "My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."

Mon, 08/03/2020 - 10:23am

In the meantime, we should all use our city ballot drop-off boxes.

Mon, 08/03/2020 - 10:15am

Middle, I completely agree. duane is babbling like a brook, again. LOL Pay no mind to his foolish drivel. What has been good for Republicans all these years, all of a sudden is bad. LOL

Sat, 08/01/2020 - 11:45am

The sudden, short notice, employee needed work hours cut, as a cost saving, is untimely. However, this abrupt change cannot discount voters obligation to exercise their constitutional rights. So long as the ballots are postmarked and mailed to registered voters when expected, the additional hours needed for delivery must be considered, and benefit the registered voter. The return time, allowed, for the completed ballot must accounted for the same.