It Doesn’t Happen Often–But Here’s What to Do If Your Ballot Gets Lost in the Mail.

A poll worker stamps a voters ballot before dropping it into a secure box at a ballot drop off location on October 13, 2020. (Photo by Sergio Flores/Getty Images)

By Amie Knowles

October 6, 2021

Changes at the post office may mean slower deliveries, for now. If you think your mail-in ballot has gotten caught up in the delay, we explain what you can do.

CHARLOTTESVILLE—You might’ve heard that postal mail’s going to be a little slower nowadays. If you’re waiting around for an important letter or package from the United States Postal Service (USPS), the wait might seem rather tiresome.

Imagine if you were waiting on a time-sensitive mail-in ballot. That’s exactly what happened to Larry Sabato, director at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics in Charlottesville. 

On October 1, Sabato took his concerns to Twitter. While he’d requested a mail-in ballot weeks prior, he still hadn’t received it. 

“Early voting began Sept. 17. Registrar mailed my VA ballot shortly after. NO BALLOT YET (or any other mail for days–and I get a lot),” Sabato wrote on the social media platform. “How many Virginians are in this predicament? I suspect many are. U.S. Postal Service, heal thyself!”

Three minutes later, he tagged Sen. Mark Warner in a Twitter post inquiring about the postal delays and possible solutions to the problem. The following day, Warner also tweeted about the issue.

“I’ve heard from hundreds of Virginians fed up with mail delays in Charlottesville,” Warner said. “This weekend, USPS will be ‘surging’ postal workers from around the Commonwealth to address the mail backlog in the region.”

What’s Going On With the Mail?

The same day as Sabato’s Twitter post, USPS implemented new service standards for its First-Class Mail and Periodicals. The changes aim to increase delivery reliability, consistency, and efficiency for customers and across the network, the postal service said. 

Most First-Class Mail and Periodicals will be unaffected by the new service standard changes. Standards for single-piece First-Class Mail traveling within a local area will continue to be two days.

However, not every package will arrive at the same speed as in previous years. Mail traveling the greatest distances will be most affected, with a day or two of transit time added for some First-Class Mail and Periodicals, USPS said.

Using the new service standard, the postal service promised better use of its trucks and existing surface network to move the mail, relying less on air transportation. USPS said that the changes allow for costs to remain at reasonable levels and helps keep postage rates affordable for customers.

How Secure is Your Ballot? 

Sure, most folks won’t complain if junk mail arrives late—or doesn’t arrive at all. But what about an important piece of mail, like a mail-in ballot for a statewide election?

The good news is that an app called BallotScout tracks mail-in ballots. Using USPS Intelligent Mail barcodes, BallotScout updates tracking information for each ballot sent to voters through the regular mail. BallotScout also tracks mail-in ballots that voters complete and send back to their local registrar’s office, as long as they use the regular mail rather than another courier or vote by drop-box.          

Mail-in ballot status is also available through the Virginia Department of Elections’ Citizen Portal. There, voters may also view their Virginia voter record to update their registration, apply to vote absentee, view their polling place, election district and voting history.

What To Do If Your Ballot Goes Missing

You’ve gone through the process. You’ve registered to vote, requested a mail-in ballot and waited the typical two to five days for it to arrive at your home. 

But now it’s day six. Is it time to panic? Not quite. Sometimes, even important documents like mail-in ballots take longer than expected to arrive. 

BallotScout suggests first ensuring all mail for the day has arrived—and then checking that the ballot didn’t arrive in a batch of mail from another day. 

However, if you’ve hit the two-week mark since you requested your ballot, it might be time to pick up the phone to make a call.

“If a voter does not receive their ballot within 14 days, it is recommended they contact their local general registrar. They can request a replacement ballot this way, cancel their request to vote absentee so they can appear in-person for early voting or wait until Election Day and vote provisionally in-person,” said Andrea Gaines, external affairs manager at the Virginia Department of Elections. “If a by-mail absentee ballot was not already cast under their name, the registrar’s office can easily void any ballot that does come in for them based on the plan that they and the voter agree upon.” 

Gaines also gave insight into what to do if a voter has concerns about their mail-in ballot arriving at their registrar’s office before the voting deadline ends. 

“If the voter is tracking their ballot back to the registrar and it looks like it won’t arrive in time to be counted for any reason, they may choose to cancel their request to vote absentee by mail and vote in-person instead,” Gaines said. “However, before doing so, it is recommended they talk to their general registrar.”

Important Mail-In Ballot Dates

The deadline to apply for a mail-in ballot is Friday, October 22, and the request must be received by a person’s local voter registration office by 5 p.m. 

Voters who choose not to mail in their absentee ballot may bring their vote to the registrar’s office by 7 p.m. on Election Day, November 2, either by delivering it in person or by placing it in a designated drop-box location.

If voters return their ballot by mail, it must be postmarked on or before Election Day and received by the registrar by noon on the third day after the election.

Amie Knowles reports for The Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected] 

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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