USPS failed to deliver ballots on time, LC prioritized election mail

ABSENTEE VOTING can be a difficult process for college students. Often first-time voters, students have to navigate registering to vote, choosing whether or not to establish residency in Oregon or register in their home state and, of course, choosing who to vote for. On top of that, some students at Lewis & Clark struggled with getting their ballot on time. Ozzie Reif ’19 is one such student.

“I had issues getting my ballot sent in the first place, but eventually I was told by the state of Delaware that it would arrive Sunday before the election, and I went to check my mailbox and it wasn’t there,” Reif said. “I sent an email to the mailroom asking if they sort mail every day when it arrives, and they said no, particularly on Sundays because they have limited staff Sundays.”

Reif got his ballot on Monday, Nov. 7, the day before the election, and sent it in with expensive one-day shipping in order to ensure that his vote would be counted in his home state.

“It was just kind of a mess,” Reif said.

Reif was not the only one affected by this. Other students said they had issues getting their ballots in a timely manner.

“I know there were five or six people filling out [their ballots] in the hallway with me [on Nov. 7],” Reif said.

Stephanie Takashima, Manager of the LC Mailroom, shed some light on the ballot-sorting process in the LC Mailroom.

“Ballots are sorted like a letter, but they get first priority,” Takashima said. “We go through all the mail and pull out all of the ballots, all of the voter-related information, and work on that first, so obviously that information would get sorted, typically same-day, sometimes the next morning. The only area where there can be a delay is if there isn’t enough information on the recipient information, like the MSC is missing or there’s a misspelled name. Those go to our research pile, and still we are on that every single day. You can imagine how much information we are getting in, so much mail during election time, so it was just us constantly going through and getting things sorted in a timely manner.”

Takashima said that every ballot they received before the election was sorted and put into a mailbox.

Senior Services Specialist Kathi Gates added:

“We get six, seven bins of mail and we went through every single piece and pulled out everything for elections and tried to get it all done as quickly as possible.”

There is no effective way for the mailroom to communicate with the students that their ballots may be in unsorted mail, but they said that all of the ballots they got were sorted quickly.

“We had a couple [students] that we let come in and go through (the unsorted mail),” Takashima said. “It’s a lot of first-time voters. It’s not like we brushed it off and didn’t care about it. We tried to give our best attention to it. I feel bad because I know there’s a lot of kids who came in in a panic.”

The main issue for students, according to Gates, is ballots that did not arrive in the mail on time.

“We’re still receiving ballots,” Gates said on Nov. 21. “Every day we’re getting stuff that should have been here long ago. So part of the problem is we’re not receiving it fast enough. And I can’t sort mail I don’t have in my hands.”

Takashima pulled out a stack of five or six ballots and ballot information that had just arrived on Nov. 21. Since then, the mailroom has stopped receiving ballots.

“I don’t want to throw USPS under the bus, but they lose a lot of mail,” Takashima said. “I’ve made several phone calls to the post office asking, because some days we wouldn’t get a lot of first class mail. Somedays I’d be on the phone with people for an hour trying to figure out why we’d be so light one day and so heavy the other day, so a lot of that stuff is out of our hands. I don’t just ignore it.”

In addition to sorting the mail for LC undergraduate students, the mailroom also receives mail addressed to students that graduated and never updated their addresses, which adds to the confusion. However, this year is not an anomaly. Certain times of year are plagued by an increase in mail, like the holidays and election season.

“It’s a problem every election, Takashima said. “There’s only so much we can do.”

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