The U.S. Postal Service plans to suspend its planned closure of processing facilities and post offices during the November election season in response to concerns from state officials that the delivery of absentee or mail-in ballots might be lost or delayed in the shuffle.
Postal officials announced plans last month to proceed with closing or consolidating at least 223 processing centers in the coming years in hopes of saving billions of dollars. USPS also plans to close thousands of post offices in the coming years in mostly rural communities.
But state officials in Arizona, California, Ohio and Oregon, among others, complained that the changes could confuse voters accustomed to mailing ballots close to mail-in deadlines or Election Day.
Voting by mail is growing in popularity, with Oregon and Washington conducting virtually all elections through the mail. One in five voters cast ballots by mail in 2010, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, up from one in eight in 2004.
The first phase of closures and consolidations is scheduled to begin after May 15 and will end by Aug. 31, according to USPS. Postal officials said Wednesday that they plan to meet with election board officials in states holding primaries during the first wave of consolidations to address any concerns. Further consolidations would begin again in early 2013.
“We’re not going to do consolidations in the busiest time of the year,” Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe said in a recent interview, noting that the fall would bring an anticipated uptick in political and holiday mail deliveries.
After agreeing to delay closures until May at the request of lawmakers, Donahoe has pushed Congress and postal regulators to quickly address concerns about the consolidation plan so they can begin again as scheduled.
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