Thousands of ballots destined for Clark County voters sat waiting for sorting at a U.S. Postal Service distribution center in Portland over the weekend as postal workers scrambled to deal with an avalanche of political mail.
Most voters who hadn’t received their general election ballots by Monday were expected to get them in the mail Tuesday, said Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey.
The county elections office mailed 218,237 ballots on Oct. 13. As of Tuesday afternoon, 7,391 completed ballots had been returned.
“We have been in discussion with the post office yesterday and today,” Kimsey said Tuesday morning. “We were told by the Vancouver postmaster that all the ballots that haven’t been previously delivered are in the mailbags today.”
Kimsey said he personally visited the postal service’s Mount Hood Distribution Center in Portland on Monday and met with its manager to find out what was causing the lag in ballot deliveries.
“It was explained to me that the post office has reduced its processing capabilities,” he said. “The post office is struggling. Then they received a large number of mail pieces last week, primarily political pieces. It was kind of the perfect storm. That’s been offered up as one explanation as for what caused the delay.”
Ronald Anderson, spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service in Portland, denied that there was anything unusual about the delivery of ballots this year.
“The ballots are sent out by standard mail,” he said. “With standard mail, the Postal Service has a three-day delivery window. They were all processed through our regional processing center. The delivery window would have been Saturday, Monday and Tuesday.”
Anderson said that was made clear in meetings with all the elections department officials in the metro area, including those in Clark County.
“This is nothing new this year,” he said. “It’s the same process we’ve used every year.”
Until two years ago, Kimsey said, many Clark County ballots were taken to the Caples Avenue post office in Vancouver for processing, but that branch no longer has sorting machines.
“Generally what happened was, we would deliver to the post office on Wednesday,” he said. “The vast majority (of households) would receive ballots Friday and Saturday. I live in the 665 ZIP code and I’ve always received my ballot on Saturday.”
Kimsey said ballots are mailed standard class in order to obtain a discounted mailing rate. “Political mailers pay a higher rate than we do,” he said. “The post office says they do treat election material as very important stuff, except, apparently, for this year.”