More than 200 ballots delivered late
The U.S. Postal Service is investigating a puzzling mail delivery delay that caused hundreds of absentee ballots to arrive at the Nevada County Elections Office too late to be counted.
“Every year, we receive absentee ballots after the close of the polls,” said county Clerk-Recorder Lorraine Jewett-Burdick. “We have to follow state law. If the ballot isn’t delivered on time by the post office, we can’t count it.”
Following the November 2000 election, Jewett-Burdick said the Elections Office received 218 absentee ballots in the three weeks after the election.
“We received one in April 2001,” she said.
But this year’s spate of late arriving ballots – a few postmarked seven days before Tuesday’s election – has Jewett-Burdick wondering how long it takes to mail a letter from Grass Valley to the Elections Office in Nevada City, some three miles away.
On weekdays “it should be a one-day turnaround,” and two or three days at the most for letters mailed on Saturday, said Grass Valley Postmaster Rick Beress. Local mail is routed through a processing center in Marysville, then back to Nevada County.
Beress said his staff and carriers are meticulous about going through the mail on Election Day to insure no absentee ballots haven’t been delivered.
Some of the late ballots, Beress said, may have been returned and mailed again because the senders forgot to include postage.
But in general, he said, the Grass Valley Post Office didn’t have any problems or delays in delivering election mail.
“But I can’t speculate on what might have happened somewhere else” down the line, he said.
On Wednesday, the Elections Office received 226 absentee ballots and 31 more on Thursday.
Of the 226 ballots received Wednesday, some were postmarked on Election Day, March 5.
Jewett-Burdick said it’s not reasonable to expect same-day delivery, but added the postal service has some explaining to do about the three late-arriving absentee ballots postmarked Feb. 28.
“The mail is not perfect and we all know that,” she said. “But if a voter mails their ballot six, five, four and three days before the election, they have every reason to expect it to arrive in time.”
When Jewett-Burdick saw the Feb. 28 postmarks, she called the postal service and was told the problem may be in the Marysville and Sacramento processing centers and not with local post offices.
So what caused the delay?
“The honest answer is, I don’t know,” said Northern California postal spokesman Dan DeMiglio.
DeMiglio said he wasn’t aware of any widespread delays in the delivery of absentee ballots and that unusual circumstances may be involved.
“We pull out all the stops to support the electorate,” DeMiglio said. “Obviously, this is terrible that some votes were compromised, and that’s unacceptable.”
DeMiglio said more than 96 percent of the mail handled by the U.S Postal Service in Northern California is delivered on time, but acknowledged that the service sometimes makes mistakes.
“We will investigate and do our best to get to the root of the delay and put in place corrective policies and practices to insure it doesn’t happen again,” he said.
DeMiglio said the delay was probably a processing issue, but that he didn’t know for sure.
“Folks are looking into this as we speak,” he said.
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