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USPS warns states about mail-in ballot deadlines, but Minnesota already has an extension in place

The Minnesota Secretary of State's office said ballots can be received up to a week after the November 2020 election.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Officials at the United States Postal Service (USPS) sent a letter late last month warning election officials in Minnesota and other states that some mail-in ballots may not arrive in time to be counted for the November election under USPS delivery standards. 

However, Minnesota election officials already addressed some of the USPS concerns by extending mail-in ballot deadlines for the November 2020 election by one week.

The USPS letter, dated July 29, was sent by USPS Executive Vice President and General Counsel Thomas J. Marshall to Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, who oversees elections in the state.

In the letter, Marshall states, "under our reading of Minnesota's election laws, certain deadlines for requesting and casting mail-in ballots are incongruous with the Postal Service's delivery standards. This mismatch creates a risk that ballots requested near the deadline under state law will not be returned by mail in time to be counted under your laws as we understand them."

The USPS letter stated it was not recommending any law changes, but noted the Postal Service cannot change its delivery standards.

"Certain state-law requirements and deadlines appear to be incompatible with the Postal Service's delivery standards," the July letter states. "It appears that a completed ballot must be received by Election Day to be counted."

However, according to the Minnesota Secretary of State's website, that's not the case this year. The site states that returned ballots need to be postmarked on or before Election Day on November 3, 2020, and must be received by the county within seven calendar days (November 10, 2020). Ballots can be returned by mail or another delivery service such as FedEx or UPS, or returned in-person to the election office that sent the ballot.

State law does allow ballots to be requested at any time of the year, up to the day before the election.

In an appearance on MSNBC's "MTP Daily," Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon called the letter "concerning."

"I view it as saber-rattling, totally unnecessary, and totally inappropriate in a democracy in 2020," Simon said. "The Post Office ought to know better."

In his appearance, Simon also noted a court ruling that allowed the mail-in balloting extension in November for Minnesota.

"Whoever it is that may be trying to slow down postal service, they're not going to slow down democracy," Simon said. 

A judge also ruled earlier this month that Minnesota must waive rules that require a witness to sign absentee ballots, citing practical difficulties during a pandemic. Legal Director Teresa Nelson of the ACLU of Minnesota, which sued to prevent the signature requirement, said both the deadline extension and removal of witness signatures were "absolutely critical and constitutionally necessary."

"For people that don't live with a registered voter, they had to choose between being able to vote and staying health and not risking their lives," Nelson said.

The USPS letter notes that some local election officials use First-Class Mail to send ballots to voters, which can take two to five days for arrival; though some elections offices use USPS Marketing Mail, which can take 3-10 days to arrive. Voters then use First-Class Mail to return a ballot.

In its letter to the Secretary of State, the USPS recommends that voters request a ballot "early enough so that it is received by their election officials at least 15 days before Election Day at a minimum, preferably long before that time."

The letter also recommends that elections officials use First-Class mail for sending ballots, and allow one week for delivery for voters.

The USPS recommends that voters mail their ballots at least one week before the state's due date.


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