Will your mail-in ballot arrive on time? 10 News puts the US Postal Service to the test

How long will our mock ballots take to arrive? We’re about to find out

ROANOKE, Va. – With Election Day just three weeks away, more than a million Virginians have already requested an absentee ballot.

In a 10 News investigation, we’re looking into how the U.S. Postal Service is handling that huge influx amidst its own cuts.

Voter we talked to in Roanoke we both nervous and confident in the postal service’s ability to process all the ballots.

“I don’t know. It’s a little frightening. I’m like, will it get there? Hello?” said Sandra Whitfield.

“I really don’t worry about it because mail is what it is, you know it’ll get there sooner or later,” said Charles Brower.

“It was better off knowing, to get my ballot in and knowing I had it safely sent than it getting discarded or something,” said Rebecca Lawrence.

“We support the post office 100% and the letter carriers. They’re doing a great job but they can only do as much as they can do,” explained Tim Taylor.

Google, in partnership with 10 News, surveyed more than 500 people across Virginia to get a feel for your concerns.

56.86% said they are either “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about USPS handling mail-in voting.

When presented with the question, “given the recent cuts and changes to the United States Postal Service (USPS), which of the following are you most concerned about, if any?” Here’s how people responded:

Most Concerned IssuePercentage of Respondents
Delayed delivery (mail arriving late)34.12
I do not have any concerns33.92
Election/voter suppression31.18
Lost packages/mail23.53
Reduced mail schedule (every other day)17.25
Mail mix-ups (delivery to wrong address)16.47

“It’s not as quick as it used to be, especially since they moved the processing center to Greensboro from Roanoke,” said Bob Clement, another Roanoke voter we interviewed.

“They told me it was mailed the 26th of September. I didn’t get it until the second of October. That was quite a long time,” said Roanoke voter Renee Mirabile-Toth.

Our Experiment

With your votes on the line, 10 News set up our own experiment to put the postal service to the test. The goal was to simulate the mail-in election process to track the timeliness of arrivals.

We sent six mock ballots from each of six locations over a two-week period, for a total of 36 mailings.

Six locations from where we mailed mock ballots.
Six locations from where we mailed mock ballots. (WSLS 10)

Participants in Alleghany County, Bedford County, Roanoke County, Roanoke city, Montgomery County and Lexington put the letters in drop boxes addressed to themselves and tracked how long it took to get back to them.

Here’s what we found:

All 36 letters made it to their destination.

  • One arrived the next day
  • 20 arrived in two days
  • Nine arrived in three days
  • Four arrived in four days
  • Two arrived in five days.

Looking at the slowest letters, three of the four-day deliveries happened in Lexington with one being mailed in Christiansburg.

The five-day deliveries happened in Roanoke County and the city of Roanoke.

The results don’t sound too problematic, but they do show there’s a chance your ballot could be thrown out.

In Virginia, mail-in ballots will be counted as long as they’re postmarked by Election Day and arrive by noon that Friday.

If we applied that law to our experiment, six of those 36 mock ballots, or 16.67%, would not be counted.

USPS would not answer our questions about delivery timing or issues. Instead, we were given a statement saying additional resources would be in place starting Oct. 1 to ensure election mail reaches its intended destination in a timely manner.

“The U.S. Postal Service’s number one priority between now and the November election is the secure, on-time delivery of the nation’s election mail,” said Postmaster General Louis DeJoy in a statement.

“They should feel confident,” explained Roanoke’s director of elections and general registrar Andrew Cochran.

Cochran told 10 News that USPS is working with his team daily, responding to any concerns they may have.

He said a lot of voters, 10,500 so far, feel confident enough to receive their ballot in the mail, but most think it’s too risky to mail the results back in, opting to return their ballots in-person instead.

“That way, they have every confidence, they’ve seen their ballot collected there,” explained Cochran.

Officials promise it’s a process you can trust, but some voters aren’t giving their stamp of approval just yet.

“I didn’t trust it because they were having so many issues,” Roanoke voter Stephanie Robinson said.

“I wanted to make sure that I’m here and my vote is counted,” Mirabile-Toth said.

The best advice from election officials is if you are mailing your ballot, send it out early.

New this year in Virginia, you can track your ballot’s location.

If you want to apply

Click here if you’d like to apply for a mail-in ballot. Remember, you only have until Oct. 23 to apply.

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