When Louis DeJoy became postmaster general in 2020, Democrats and vote-by-mail advocates feared the Trump appointee would act to slow the Postal Service's processing and delivery of election materials, even as demand for mail ballots surged during the pandemic.
But DeJoy told Congress in August that ballots would be delivered on time, and a new report from the USPS inspector general proves he largely kept his word.
According to the report, 94 percent of trackable election mail — such as ballots and voter registration applications — was delivered within the expected service window of 2-5 days for first-class mail, and even for some election mail that was sent as a lower class.
While the Postal Service did not hit its on-time delivery goal of 96 percent for election mail, the report noted that, thanks to prioritization by the agency, such mail exceeded on-time processing of other first-class mail by more than 5 percentage points and showed an 11-point increase over 2018.
"The Postal Service prioritized processing of Election Mail during the 2020 general election, significantly improving timeliness over the 2018 mid-term election even with significantly increased volumes of Election Mail in the mailstream," the report states. "Although timeliness was slightly below goals, proper handling and timely delivery of all Election Mail, especially ballots, was the number one priority of the Postal Service."
From Sept. 1 to Nov. 3, USPS processed 134 million pieces of election mail, but only 53 percent could be tracked for performance. The remaining pieces lacked unique barcodes — which are applied at the discretion of state or local elections boards — or were not scanned properly.
According to the U.S. Elections Project, more than 92 million mail ballots were requested or proactively sent to voters in 2020, and more than 65 million were returned by mail.
The Postal Service took a number of steps to increase election mail performance, according to the report, including:
- Treating all election mail as first-class, even if sent as marketing mail, pre-approving overtime during a critical stretch around Election Day and providing extra transportations services. (These steps were mandated by a court order.)
- Expediting delivery of ballots as Express Mail in the final week of voting.
- Speeding up postmarking and sorting.
While election mail performed better, political mail (content created by candidates, campaigns and parties for political purposes) went the other way. Such mail was down 3 points from 2018, showing a 92 percent on-time rate but matching the standard for marketing-class mail.
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A new study suggests some voters in Wisconsin, particularly members of minority communities in that perennial tossup state, may lose their voting rights thanks to flaws in the state's process for maintaining registration lists.
At least 4 percent of Wisconsin voters' registrations were incorrectly flagged as out of date in 2018 because they were suspected of having moved but had not done so, Yale University researchers found.
Their report offers a number of caveats that demonstrate the incorrect labeling is likely higher than 4 percent. And in a place where the state Supreme Court is considering whether to purge 129,000 voters — and where the last two contests for presidential electors were each decided by fewer than 25,000 ballots — every registration is critical.
Wisconsin participates in the Electronic Registration Information Center, which shares data (like motor vehicle and Postal Service records) among 30 states and Washington, D.C., to help them maintain voter registration lists, or poll books. Yale's researchers, led by political science professor Gregory Huber, compared ERIC's Wisconsin data to actual voter files from 2018 and 2019.
From there, they could determine which suspected movers never responded to the state's postcards seeking address confirmation but still cast ballots at the addresses on file — data totaling at least 9,000 registrants, or 4 percent of the registered voters. And minority voters were twice as likely as white voters to be mislabeled.
The researchers referred to those numbers as a "lower bound" because additional people may have proactively reactivated their registrations after the data was collected or did not vote and therefore could not have been counted.
"The process of maintaining states' voter registration files cries out for greater transparency," said Huber. "Our work shows that significant numbers of people are at risk of being disenfranchised, particularly those from minority groups."
Huber noted that the researchers saw no evidence of intentional targeting of minority voters and he gave the state credit for combining fraud protections with efforts to ease voting.
"The poll books are a great way to identify mistakes and prevent people from being disenfranchised," he said. "The state also has same day voter registration, which is another safety valve that doesn't exist in many states. We suggest that states expend more effort on contacting people at risk of losing their registration."
Meanwhile, the Wisconsin Supreme Court has yet to rule on a case that could impact the voting eligibility of people who may have moved but whose addresses have not been confirmed.
The court heard oral arguments in September over whether the state must enforce strict list maintenance to prevent voter fraud (of which there is scant evidence) at the possible cost of voter suppression (as voting rights advocates say would be the result).
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The United States has continued a troubling trend: According to a widely respected annual index of government responsibility around the word, the nation is seen as the most corrupt it has been since 2012.
Transparency International, which has produced the Corruption Perceptions Index since 1995, released the latest edition Thursday and it paints a bleak picture for the United States. On a scale of 0 to 100, where a lower score equals greater corruption, the United States earned a 67, ranking as the 25th least corrupt nation — right between Bhutan and Chile. Last year, the U.S. ranked 23rd with a score of 69.
The report's authors blamed Donald Trump's White House for the backsliding.
"Attacks by the previous administration on a landmark anti-bribery law, on whistleblowers with evidence of fraud and corruption in the government, on oversight of pandemic relief funding, and on the nation's electoral process were all likely factors impacting assessments of corruption," said Gary Kalman, director of Transparency International's U.S. office. "Add to all that the release of the [Financial Crimes Enforcement Network] files documenting failures in the nation's protections against money laundering and it is safe to say it was a difficult and troubling year for anti-corruption advocates."
The United States was among 47 countries to score lower in 2020 than in the previous year. And while Transparency International admits a two-point drop is not significant on its own, the continued downward trend means the U.S. is now on the "countries to watch" list, which includes Honduras, Myanmar, Belarus, Lebanon and Zambia.
Denmark and New Zealand tied for the top score (88) while Canada (77) received the highest marks in the Americas. The United States has never ranked higher than 14, which it achieved in 2000, when the scoring methodology was different.
Transparency International grades 180 countries, not on data about corruption but on experts' and business leaders' perception of corruption.
The coronavirus pandemic is at the root of much of the perceived corruption in 2020.
"As the past tumultuous year has shown, Covid-19 is not just a health and economic crisis, but a corruption crisis as well, with countless lives lost due to the insidious effects of corruption undermining a fair and equitable global response," the report says.
They identify four steps to fighting corruption and Covid-19: strengthening oversight institutions, defending democracy, ensuring open and transparent contracting, and making more data available to the public.
Transparency International's U.S. office will be following up another report that offers recommendations for boosting the score. The blueprint is designed to work in parallel with HR 1, the catch-all democracy reform package pushed by most all Democrats in Congress but opposed by almost all Republicans.
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