Thanks to an obscure policy change that went largely unnoticed this summer, United States Postal Workers are no longer permitted to serve as signatory witnesses on absentee ballots, amplifying frustrations of voters, particularly in rural areas, over whether their mail-in ballots will be properly counted in November’s presidential election.
For millions of voters, mail-in voting is the only safe way to cast a ballot during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, as its death toll in the United States has surpassed 171,000.
The issue came to a head in Alaska on Monday, the Anckorage Daily News reported Tuesday, when absentee voter Sheli DeLaney was informed that poll workers were forbidden to sign the required affidavit.
“Sooo I went to the post office to mail my absentee ballot and even tho it says very clearly on the instructions that postal officials can sign your witness affidavit, the folks working the counter downtown said they were not allowed,” DeLaney wrote on Twitter. “Why?
Sooo I went to the post office to mail my absentee ballot and even tho it says very clearly on the instructions that postal officials can sign your witness affidavit, the folks working the counter downtown said they were not allowed 🤨 why?
— Skeli HeLLaney 💀 (@SheLaney) August 18, 2020
The confusion escalated further after Gail Fenumiai, Director of the Alaska Division of Elections, asked the United States Postal Service to explain what exactly was going on.
Poll workers “have been told by the postal official that they are not authorized to serve as a witness in their official capacity,” Fenumiai asked the USPS in a letter. “This came as surprise to the state because we know in past elections postal officials have served as witnesses. Rural Alaska relies heavily on postal officials as they are often sometimes the only option for a witness. … Can you provide me with an explanation and a copy of the official postal regulation stating this mandate?”
The response from the USPS did little to clear things up.
“Postal Employees are prohibited from serving as witnesses in their official capacity while on duty, due in part to the potential operational impacts. The Postal Service does not prohibit an employee from serving as a witness in their personal capacity off-duty, if they so choose,” Daniel Bentley, a Washington, DC USPS project management specialist, replied.
Meawhile, USPS personnel in western states said that they were under the impression that the policy in question “is a national thing that went out,” and “not just Alaska.”
That did not help matters much, either.
“Some state laws specifically authorize Postal Service employees to provide a witness signature on ballot envelopes,” James Boxrud, a USPS spokesman out west, said. “However, performing this function is not within the scope of a postal employee’s duties and is not required by the Postal Service’s regulations.”
Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, the Anckorage Daily News reported, Wisconsin Elections Commission Public Information Officer Reid Magney said that the Badger States requires witness signatures on all absentee ballots, and that he had no idea why there was so much fuss in Alaksa.
The potential nullification or outright denial of absentee ballots, which President Donald Trump has defended while attacking mail-in voting (even though they are the same thing), is just one insidious aspect to Trump’s efforts to rig the election for himself – and it is a central tenet to years-long voter suppression campaigns championed by Republicans.
What's Your Reaction?
Brandon is a political writer for the Hill Reporter specializing in current events, breaking news, and scientific discovery. Brandon holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Indiana University. He lives in New York City.