To Ease Mail-In Voting, What About Commercial Carriers?


Photo by Liam Kevan | Unsplash

Photo by Liam Kevan | Unsplash

Over the past five months of pandemic purchasing, Americans have delivered billions of dollars of revenue to Amazon, FedEx, and UPS. Attacks on the Post Office call these companies to pay it forward by ensuring a safe and fair election to Americans.

Picture saving democracy by Federal Express, Amazon, UPS, and others accepting ballots at trucks, drop boxes, and storefronts around the country. That is how we counter recent budget cuts and management changes that leave the USPS needing help to deliver the unprecedented increase of mail-in ballots. Unlike the USPS, commercial carriers ensure that each transported vote will be barcoded and tracked, providing a chain-of-custody beyond criticism. Mobilizing our country’s extensive commercial delivery infrastructure to speed mail voting envelopes to election offices will ensure all the ballots arrive in a timely manner.

Nine states from across the political spectrum specifically already allow commercial delivery of ballots: TennesseeOklahomaIndianaAlaskaAlabamaLouisianaNebraskaWest Virginia, and Texas. Separately, A National Conference of State Legislatures report – called “Voting Outside the Polling Place” – identified 13 states that “are silent” on who can deliver a mail ballot for a voter. Assuming that those states do allow commercial deliveries, 44% of the states allow commercial ballot delivery.

In contrast, only four state laws or voter websites require the use of “federal,” “USPS,” or “US Mail.” Montana is the only state requiring ballots to be postmarked. Other state references to postmarks are not requirements, but rather, are used to authenticate arrival time to determine whether last minute ballots will be counted. The battleground states of OhioIowa, and Georgia are among those requiring Post Office delivery. 

Other battleground states join many states that do not clearly define “mail” or “delivery”: Arizona requires the use of “the pre-paid envelope” but does not specify which service may deliver this envelope. Wisconsin voter instructions state that “the ballot must be returned so it can be delivered to the polling place,” but the law does not specify who can or cannot return a mail ballot. Florida requires only that the voter “Mail, deliver, or have delivered the completed mailing envelope.” Michigan requires that delivery be made by “a person whose job normally includes the handling of mail.” Pennsylvania shows a picture of a mailbox on its Voting by Mail-In Ballot website, but its new election law only says “by mail,” not specifying US Mail. The lack of uniformity in how each state accepts mail-in votes is alarming.

In more than 20 states, commercial mail services need to comply with a range of unique restrictions on who can handle a ballot. For example, in South Carolina, standard commercial delivery service paperwork should adhere to a law that “A voter may authorize another person to return the ballot in writing.” In South Dakota, if a single mail order contains more than one ballot, the messenger must “notify the person in charge of elections.” Oregon requires pickup locations to post a sign stating: “NOT AN OFFICIAL BALLOT DROP SITE.” Several states require an affidavit from the voter. These restrictions may be complicated, but they do not prevent commercial mail services in these states. 

To avoid post-election litigation, commercial delivery companies will need to engage with states immediately. Definite plans to deliver by FedEx, Amazon, and UPS should begin in the nine states that specifically allow commercial delivery. In the 13 states that are silent in their laws on who can deliver, companies need to get prior confirmation by each state’s top election official. Similarly, in the more than 20 states with restrictions or without clear definitions, companies will want explicit legal authorization by the government. 

Even if only half the states participate, every ballot they deliver will ease the Post Office’s burden. Plus, an unintended benefit may be much-needed nonpartisanship in this election. With Amazon’s past political donations leaning Democrat and FedEx and UPS donations leaning Republican, we should see rare agreement to end this attack on democracy and assure that every vote will arrive to be counted. 

(All commercial mail references made in this article refer to this report from the SABER Institute)

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