Machines blamed for tardy ballots |

Machines blamed for tardy ballots

Postal officials say a mechanical breakdown may be behind a recent rash of late absentee ballots for the Nevada County elections.

Late this week, it was also learned that more than 100 county welfare recipients waited for late checks due to mailing problems.

More than 200 absentee ballots – some postmarked between Feb. 28 and March 2 – arrived too late to be counted at the Elections Office March 5.

The usual turnaround for local mail – which is routed through a processing center in Marysville, then back to Nevada County – is one day on weekdays and two or three days for letters mailed on Saturday.

Phil Reinheimer, the county’s public guardian and Adult and Family Services director, said Friday at least 125 of the 630 welfare checks mailed out Feb. 28 hadn’t been received by recipients five days later.

Reinheimer said his office received a high volume of calls this week from concerned welfare recipients wondering where their checks were.

“People rely on these checks the first of the month to pay the rent, buy food and pay bills,” Reinheimer said. “They start worrying about being evicted and how they’re going to pay their bills. It’s a huge concern in their lives.”

Reinheimer said he contacted the postal service, but received no explanation about why local mail delivery was being delayed on such a large scale.

“We hope this is a one-time thing,” he said.

On the night of Feb. 28, the Marysville processing center had a “serious mechanical problem,” said Northern California postal spokesman Dan DeMiglio Friday.

DeMiglio said a bearing went out on a bar-code sorter – a computerized machine that sorts the mail.

Then on March 1, DeMiglio said another sorter went down.

He said required preventive maintenance was done on the sorters and there was no negligence on the part of the Marysville staff.

“But undoubtedly,” he said, “it happened at the worst possible time.”

DeMiglio said people think Christmas is the busiest time of year for the postal service. “But the latter part of the election cycle is a huge volume time for us and we usually handle it well,” he said.

To address the problem, DeMiglio said, the Marysville center will conduct preventative maintenance on mail sorters more frequently than the manufacturer recommends.

“We apologize to anyone that was negatively impacted by this fully and sincerely, and offer our assurance that we’re doing everything humanly possible to ensure this doesn’t happen again,” he said.

DeMiglio said the mechanical breakdown at the Marysville center “may well explain” all the local mail delays, but added that the sorter problem “certainly explains” the delay in delivery of absentee ballots.

As for the welfare checks, DeMiglio doesn’t dispute they’re late, but said the checks may have been “inadvertently” misdirected by a tag mix-up at a mailing house unnamed for security reasons.

“The bottom line is, our records indicate the tags were mixed up,” DeMiglio said. “I’ve been assured by Sacramento postal officials that they’re in contact with the mailing house and are working to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”

DeMiglio said the postal service’s investigation of the recent mail delivery delays is not over, but added that there’s no indication the problems are related to Nevada County post offices.

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