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State Asks To Extend Mail-In Ballot Deadline, Citing 'Significant Risk' Of Mail Delays

Carrie Antlfinger

The Pennsylvania Department of State asked the state Supreme Court on Thursday to extend the deadline to receive mail ballots in the November election by three days – from 8 p.m. on Election Day to the Friday following the election. If granted, the request would likely expand the number of eligible ballots cast in a state Donald Trump won in 2016 by very slim margins.
The request came after the U.S. Postal Service told the state, in a letter dated July 29, that there’s “significant risk” that voters who request a mail-in ballot won’t have enough time to complete it and send it back in time to meet the state’s deadlines.

“Recent reports have revealed that the United States Postal Service, already strained by the COVID-19 pandemic, has implemented certain changes to its internal protocols and procedures that have resulted in widespread, multiple-day delays in mail delivery,”  the filing states, and says such delays makes “the threat to Pennsylvanians’ right to vote unmistakably clear and concrete.”

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
A U.S. Postal Service truck drives along Pittsburgh's North Shore.

The filing by the state includes a letter that Thomas J. Marshall, the general counsel and Vice President of the U.S. Postal Service,  which says the state’s deadlines are incompatible with USPS delivery standards.

The letter recommended that voters submit their application to vote by mail early enough so that it’s received at least 15 days before the election at a minimum, “and preferably long before that time.” And Marshall's letter said that voters should mail back completed ballots at least a week before the election.

The Postal Service’s ability to deliver and process mail in a timely manner in Pennsylvania stems from recent cuts made by Postmaster General Louis Dejoy, a Trump donor and businessman who was appointed in May. Cuts include a ban on employees working overtime and a hiring freeze.

President Trump – who has long been against mail-in voting and has falsely claimed it leads to widespread voter fraud – said on Thursday that the post office won’t be able to handle a massive influx of mail ballots without more funding, which he's against providing.

“They want $25 billion for the post office,” he said in an interview on Fox Business. “Now, they need that money in order to have the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots. Now, in the meantime, they aren't getting there. But if they don't get those two items, that means you can't have universal mail-in voting because they're not equipped to have it."

Some Pennsylvania counties, such as Philadelphia, struggled with delays in mail delivery in the June primary. But the state wrote Thursday that due to statewide delays in mail delivery in November, statewide relief should be provided.

“In addition, a short extension of the deadline for receipt of completed absentee and mail-in ballots would be feasible to administer and not disrupt other aspects of election administration,” the state wrote.

Thursday’s request from the state is the latest move in a lawsuit initially filed against the state in April, that asked state election officials to adopt new rules ahead of the November elections. The lawsuit was filed by on behalf of the Pennsylvania Alliance for Retired Americans and asked the state to extend deadlines for mail ballots, provide pre-paid postage for ballots, and train election officials in signature matching (voters’ signatures are used to verify mailed ballots) techniques and create a process for voters to correct signatures that don’t match.

Other voting lawsuits saw a flurry of activity at the end of this week, too. The Trump campaign and other Republicans were asked by a federal judge late Thursday to produce evidence of voter fraud created by the use of drop boxes. In that lawsuit, the Trump campaign sued county election officials in all 67 Pennsylvania counties over the use of drop boxes for mail ballots. Eighteen counties made ballot drop boxes available to return ballots in person, if voters received their ballots late and were concerned they wouldn’t be returned in time to be counted.

Lucy Perkins is an editor and also reports on federal government and elections for the Government and Accountability team. Before joining the WESA newsroom, she was an NPR producer in Washington, D.C., working on news programs like All Things Considered and Weekend Edition. You can reach her at lperkins@wesa.fm.