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Kansas City Election Officials Reassure Wary Voters On Mail-In Ballots, Despite Postal Worries

081820_cm_mail ballots.jpg
Carlos Moreno
/
KCUR 89.3
Lauri Ealom of the Kansas City Board of Election Commissioners demonstrates where voters must remember to fill out necessary information on their ballot return envelopes. Ealom reminded voters that not filling out the highlighted areas will disqualify the ballot.

Yet election officials say there will be a huge increase in mail-in ballots, thanks to the pandemic, and urge voters to send them early.

Kansas City area election officials and members of the Congressional delegation said Tuesday they are fielding lots of worried calls about the safety of mail-in voting, and they are trying to pro-actively address them prior to the November elections.

They voiced their concerns on the same day that U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy issued a lengthy statement to reassure the public that proposed U.S. Postal Service changes will not adversely affect the elections.

“The Postal Service is ready today to handle whatever volume of election mail it receives this fall,” DeJoy said, following a growing national outcry over proposed policy changes.

DeJoy said he believes Postal Service reforms are needed, but no changes are imminent. Mail processing equipment and blue collection boxes will not be removed, mail processing facilities will not be closed and overtime will be approved as needed, he said.

Media reports of Postal Service cuts in recent days have set off alarm bells across the country and in the Kansas City area. They prompted Kansas Congresswoman Sharice Davids to call for DeJoy’s removal last week.

Davids said she had heard from hundreds of Kansans, including seniors concerned about not getting medications in the mail, residents not getting their mail in a timely manner, and many people “worried about whether their ballot will be counted if they vote by mail.”

On Tuesday, Davids responded to DeJoy with her own statement, saying she was glad he was suspending the changes. But she said she believes DeJoy needs to be replaced by nonpartisan leadership and that Congress needs to ensure the Postal Service has the resources it needs during the pandemic.

Kansas City Congressman Emanuel Cleaver said Tuesday that he, too, is hearing from constituents very concerned about proposed Post Office cuts, particularly in rural parts of his district.

“I have little towns in my congressional district like Mayview and Orrick and Sweet Springs,” Cleaver said, adding that many calls are to his Higginsville office, from seniors concerned about getting their medications promptly by mail.

Cleaver said he took a call at his home from a Kansas City constituent concerned about having to stand in a long line on Election Day and wanting him to bring her an absentee ballot, which would be illegal. “It demonstrates the desperation people are feeling,” he said.

Cleaver said he and Davids are talking about ways they can get the word out to people about the proper way to participate in the mail-in balloting process, and they will be reaching out to Postal Service delivery experts as well.

But he said his best advice is to get mail-in ballots as soon as they are available this fall and mail them back as quickly as possible.

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Lynn Horsley
Randy Gunn, right, a mail specialist with the U.S. Postal Service in Liberty met Tuesday with Tiffany Francis and Kevin Burke at the Clay County Election Office to talk about mail-in balloting.

That was also the advice from Kansas City area election authorities Tuesday.

Shawn Kieffer, a Kansas City Election Board director, said many mail-in ballots for the August primary took four to five days to reach the office after being postmarked. About 280 ballots were received too late to be counted. (In Kansas, mailed ballots must be postmarked by Election Day, but in Missouri they must be received at election offices by Election Day).

Kieffer said his office is expecting perhaps as many as 40,000 mailed ballots, and to be on the safe side, mail-in ballots should be sent at least a week ahead of time.

Clay County and Platte County election officials had an informational meeting Tuesday with a Postal Service representative to discuss the best way to track ballots through their envelope barcodes and make sure they don’t get lost.

“People just aren’t sure they can trust the Post Office to get those ballots to us,” said Tiffany Francis, Democratic director with the Clay County Election office.

She learned in Tuesday’s meeting that there’s no way currently to track the barcode to each individual voter but there may be a way to track large batches of mail-in ballots if they’re at a particular postal location.

She said they’ve never had a problem with lost absentee ballots in the past and she’s optimistic the process will work this fall, even with an anticipated influx of more than 25,000 mailed ballots.

“I have a lot of faith it will go okay, and we’re going to do our best to make sure it does,” she said.

A Kansas City postal service spokesman also offered assurances Tuesday.

“The Postal Service has ample capacity to adjust our nationwide processing and delivery network to meet projected Election and political mail volume,” said Mark Inglett, strategic communications specialist with the Postal Service in Kansas City. “We will continue to work with state and local officials to ensure we are successful during the election process.”

A group of protesters with their own concerns about recent changes to the US Postal Service rallied in front of a post office in Olathe Tuesday evening.

The rally was organized by local activism group Johnson County MoveOn. Group member Al Frisby says he helped organize the event because of the concern that these changes could prevent him and thousands of others of their plans to mail in their ballots for the November election.

“We want our mail-in ballots, no matter what kind of mailing ballot it is, to arrive at the destination where they want to be without any hindrance,” said Frisby. “I'm 74-years-old and I don't want to go to the polls. It could kill me.”

Another member, Patty Newark, says she’s already seen a delay in items that she’s mailed through USPS. She’s worried that recent changes will impact more than just the election.

“People depend on this for their medications, for their social security checks, for packages here at the time of COVID. People don't want to get out, they’re trying to mail essential things,” said Newark.

Lynn Horsley is a freelance journalist in Kansas City. Follow her on Twitter @LynnHorsley.

Jodi Fortino is a KCUR intern. She is on Twitter @fortinojodi.

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