Tester to Postal Service: Protect Montanans’ right to vote
Senator says consolidating mail processing facilities could delay absentee ballots
(U.S. SENATE) – With more and more Montanans voting by mail, Senator Jon Tester is urging the head of the U.S. Postal Service not to close mail processing facilities until 2013 – if it must close any at all.
The Postal Service agreed to suspend closures until at least May 15 and again during the general election season this fall, but Tester wants to extend the closure moratorium to include this year’s primary elections.
Montana holds its primary election on June 5.
Tester, who opposes closing any mail processing facilities, says closing facilities could prevent absentee ballots from reaching polling locations by Election Day. Forty-seven percent of Montana voters cast absentee ballots in 2010, a threefold increase from 2000.
“With closures potentially beginning as soon as May 15, it is clear that primary voters will be negatively affected by possible closures of mail processing facilities,” Tester wrote Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe. “I am concerned that any new system would not be efficient enough to address such a large volume of time-sensitive mail.”
Tester also says that suspending all mail processing facility closures until 2013 would allow state legislatures to “better determine if and how vote-by-mail laws should be changed” to deal with changes to mail service.
“The U.S. Postal Service plays a valuable role in helping to facilitate fair and well run elections in Montana,” Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch said. “An untimely change to the mail processing system could potentially impact voter participation, voter confidence, and the dissemination of important election-related materials.”
There are nearly 635,000 registered voters in Montana. To be accepted, Montanans’ absentee ballots must be returned to county election offices by the time polls close on Election Day. Ballots postmarked on Election Day, but not received, are not accepted.
Tester last year got the Postal Service to delay plans to close 85 post offices and mail processing facilities to give Congress more time to work on a long-term reform of the financially-strapped organization. He also led the charge to successfully convince the Postal Service to change course and keep Missoula’s processing facility open.
Tester’s letter to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe is available below and online HERE.
April 2, 2012
The Honorable Patrick Donahoe
Postmaster General and Chief Executive Officer
United States Postal Service
458 L’Enfant Plaza Southwest
Washington D.C., DC 20024-2114
Dear Postmaster General Donahoe,
It is my understanding that the U.S. Postal Service plans to suspend consolidations of mail processing facilities during peak election mailing season to avoid adverse effects on the November election. I am writing to express my concerns that this decision will have on primary elections around the country.
While this announcement is a welcome step, Montana and many other states will hold primary elections outside of that suspension period. With closures potentially beginning as soon as May 15, it is clear that primary voters in those states with summer primaries will be negatively affected by possible closures of mail processing facilities prior to that date. Indeed, at least two states hold primary elections just one week after the May 15 moratorium expires. I am concerned that any new system would not be efficient enough to address such a large volume of time-sensitive mail.
In Montana, which holds its primary on June 5, there are 634,593 registered voters, 47 percent of whom voted by absentee ballot in the 2010 federal general election. This shows growth of nearly 35 percent over the last ten years, a number that is sure to continue to increase.
I request that you delay all mail processing facility closures until the start of 2013. This delay would allow for the Montana Legislature – and legislatures in other states – to better determine if and how vote-by-mail laws should be changed to accommodate impending dramatic changes to the Postal Service.
If changes must be made which would affect Montana’s primary election, I ask how you will ensure that you are protecting Montanans’ right to vote? Will you consider hand-canceling ballots or providing ballot drop boxes at local post offices? Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch has made it a priority to make sure that all who want to vote, whether by mail or at the polls, are able to do so without undue burden. I strongly support her in this effort.
Thank you for your attention to this important issue.