Snail Mail: Virginia Voters Frustrated by Mail-In Ballot Delays

Ballot to vote by mail

By Amie Knowles

October 26, 2021

The Democratic Party of Virginia filed a lawsuit against a division manager and district manager for the United States Postal Service, alleging slow processing of election-related materials. 

CHARLOTTESVILLE—Some Virginia voters might feel “snail mail” has reached a new level of slow this year. That could change if the Democratic Party of Virginia wins a lawsuit they filed against a division manager and a district manager for the United States Postal Service (USPS) on Friday, Oct. 22, asking the court to order that USPS “greatly expedite its processing and delivery of election related mail.”

While the party filed the lawsuit less than two weeks before the gubernatorial election on Nov. 2—alleging long wait times for mail-in ballots to proceed through the system—the issue of slow mail arose in the state months ago. 

In March, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) addressed the topic, citing stories he’d heard throughout the commonwealth of bills, documents and even medication getting delivered weeks past their normal timeframe. The senator himself received a birthday card postmarked Dec. 11, 2020 on February 5, 2021. 

At the time, Warner said he was “bitterly disappointed by the performance of our postal service,” but also noted that it wasn’t the fault of the postal workers, who were “working their hearts out.”

Referring to USPS as a “critically essential service,” Warner called for changes in management, mail processing equipment and better time allowances for postal workers. 

However, as the year continued and Election Day approached, the issues continued.

Late Mail Lawsuit 

On Friday, the Democratic Party of Virginia filed a lawsuit alleging that local branches of the postal service failed to deliver and process election-related material ahead of the Nov. 2 gubernatorial election. The election will decide the winners of the commonwealth’s governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and House of Delegates seats. 

According to the lawsuit, upwards of 300,000 Virginians will likely attempt to cast their votes by mail this year. However, an alleged “thousands” of unprocessed votes still sat at commonwealth postal facilities. The claims specifically highlighted instances in Albemarle, Portsmouth and James City Counties, where ballots had yet to be scanned into the system, even though registrars dropped them off weeks prior. 

The lawsuit—specifically brought against Frank Veal in his official capacity as the South Atlantic division manager for the United States Postal Service and Gerald Roane in his official capacity as Virginia district manager of the United States Postal Service—asks the court to order an expedited process and delivery of election related mail from USPS. 

Where’s My Ballot?

The mail delivery problem trickled into the Virginia 2021 election, which Larry Sabato, director at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, highlighted earlier this month when he took to Twitter to express his frustration. On Oct. 1, Sabato revealed that while he’d requested a mail-in ballot weeks prior, he still hadn’t received it. 

Later that day, he went on the social media platform again with an update. Sabato alleged that according to an unnamed postal service worker, the postal delivery person for Sabato’s mail resigned a week and a half before the director made the post, citing a supervisor’s verbal abuse as the reason for the departure. 

While Sabato received a few pieces of mail on Oct. 3—a Sunday—the following days weren’t as promising. He received no mail from Oct. 4 to Oct. 8, when he took to Twitter with the update. A total of 31 pieces of mail arrived on Oct. 13, but still no ballot. 

For approximately two weeks, Twitter users intermittently tagged Sabato in posts related to the incident. Some people lamented about the situation, while others asked about the progress of the ballot or offered helpful ballot-tracking tips. A mailman even joined in the posts, thanking Sabato and others for their “steadfast support.”

Good news came for the director more than two weeks after his original Twitter post, which garnered over 1,100 likes and more than 430 retweets. On Oct. 16—nearly one month after early voting began on Sept. 17—Sabato’s ballot arrived in the mail. It was one of 40 pieces of mail he received that day.

USPS Responds

Philip Bogenberger, a USPS spokesman based out of Charlotte, North Carolina, responded to Dogwood’s request for comment about the lawsuit, allegations and handling of ballots with the following statement:

“The Postal Service has a robust and tested process for the proper handling and timely delivery of Election Mail. Our Election Mail processes and procedures are fully operational in Virginia. We are not aware of any processing delays of any ballots within our facilities nor any ballot delivery delays, and we have fully communicated this information to election officials. Throughout the election cycle we work closely with state and local election officials and have been addressing any concerns that they raise. Daily sweeps are being conducted in all our Virginia facilities. The United States Postal Service is fully committed to fulfilling our important role in the electoral process as a secure, efficient and effective way for citizens to participate when policymakers decide to use mail as part of their election system.”

If you’re planning to mail in your ballot, you’ve got until Nov. 2 to do so. All mail-in ballots must be postmarked by or on Election Day and must arrive at the registrar’s office no later than noon on Friday, Nov. 5, to count.

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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