Mail-in voting cited as cause of record turnout for primary election in Door County. Meanwhile, U.S. Postal Service changes being walked back until after November election.
Election Day is coming earlier and earlier for voters whose appetites for vote-by-mail ballots have increased. And the earlier, the better is the advice given to local voters about when to request those ballots.
“Voters should request their ballot as soon as they know they want to request their ballot,” said Door County Clerk Jill Lau. “They can do that now at any time.”
The official deadline is 5 pm on the Thursday prior to Election Day to request a ballot, but Lau said it’s not realistic to depend on a ballot getting back on time if voters wait until then.
Bob Sheehan, the United States Postal Service (USPS) spokesperson for the USPS Lakeland District, which includes Door County, said the postal service advises voters to request ballots “at the earliest point allowable, but no later than 15 days prior to the election date,” and to mail that ballot back “at least one week prior” to the Election Day deadline.
The Brookings Institute has cautiously estimated that at least 50 percent of all ballots cast during the Nov. 4 election will be by mail or early voting. Door County already surpassed that percentage during the Aug. 11 primary: Of the 7,100 votes counted, 4,232 of them – or 59.6 percent – were cast using vote-by-mail ballots.
It was also a record-turnout primary for Door County, Lau said, with 35 percent of the county’s 20,436 registered voters participating. The previous record for a primary was set in 2006, when 7,027 votes were counted, followed closely by the 7,016 votes cast during the 2018 primary.
The record turnout this year was “definitely due to the absentee ballots,” Lau said. “We had over 5,200 requests [for an absentee ballot] on file going into the August election – by far a record.”
Not everyone who requested a ballot used that ballot to vote, however. Whether any of those votes didn’t meet the deadline of Election Day by 8 pm when the in-person polls closed is anyone’s guess. Lau doesn’t ask municipal clerks around the county to track late ballot arrivals. From her experience also as the clerk for the Town of Nasewaupee, however, she said no ballots came in after Election Day.
“I do know that our Sturgeon Bay post office was working into the early evening getting some ballots to the polling location,” she said. “I know for certain the Town of Nasewaupee and the Town of Gardner had ballots delivered to the polling place by the post office around 5 pm on Election Day. It is good to know we had people at the post office watching to get as many ballots delivered as possible.”
Local support of local carriers looks a lot different from national headlines about the U.S. Postal Service’s (USPS) failings. Those have arisen in the wake of the new organizational structure announced by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy in early August to “reduce our cost base and capture new revenue,” according to the Aug. 7 press release issued by DeJoy’s office to announce the changes. No employees lost their jobs; “however, to prepare for future changes,” DeJoy implemented a management hiring freeze and requested voluntary early retirement for employees who are not represented by unions.
The USPS Board of Governors selected DeJoy in May to be the 75th postmaster general. Since then, the majority of the board of governors’ six members, plus DeJoy, have fallen under increased scrutiny over reported support of and ties to President Trump, his administration or the Republican Party.
The entire Senate Democratic caucus, including U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, pressed DeJoy earlier this week to testify before Congress about all the changes he has made and intends to make. They say the changes have caused serious delays for postal customers in Wisconsin and across the country, according to a release from Baldwin’s office. Baldwin had already called for answers from DeJoy earlier this month over mail-delivery delays for Wisconsinites that had occurred because of DeJoy’s changes, including prescription-drug delays for veterans.
DeJoy announced in a press release Tuesday that he’d suspend some of the planned changes until after the election “to avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail.” That means, according to the release, that retail hours at post offices will not change; no mail-processing facilities will be closed; overtime will continue to be approved as needed; and all mail-processing equipment and blue collection boxes will remain.
DeJoy’s announcement followed lawsuits filed Monday against President Trump and DeJoy from six states, Wisconsin included, by mail-in voters who are seeking to stop postal-service changes prior to the election.
The official word from the USPS’s Sheehan is that the postal service is accustomed to aligning workforce to workload, even during a global pandemic. This includes increased mail demand for medicine, online purchases for consumer staples, benefit checks and the election.
“The postal service’s financial condition is not going to impact our ability to process and deliver election and political mail,” Sheehan said.