14:27 GMT25 November 2020
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    Driven to a degree by the COVID-19 pandemic, early voting both by mail and in-person has surged to record highs ahead of Election Day on 3 November. As of Wednesday evening, about 36 per cent of registered voters had already cast ballots, according to a survey in all 50 states and Washington, DC, by CNN, Edison Research and Catalist.

    Election officials have reportedly issued warnings that early voting ballots sent via the US Postal Service might fail to arrive in time to be counted, writes The Washington Post.

    Amid a record surge in early voting by mail and in-person, with less than a week to go until Election Day on 3 November, more than 42 million out of the 92 million mail ballots requested by voters nationally are yet to be returned, according to data supplied by the US Elections Project by Wednesday afternoon.

    Based on national first-class mail service projections, 27 October was the informal deadline by which ballots could be mailed to ensure delivery in time for Election Day, according to postal and election administration experts.

    Megan Dominy pulls Brielle Taylor(L) 1, and Lila Taylor, 4, while offering water and snacks to people waiting in line to cast their ballots at an early voting location in the Smyrna Community Center on October 24, 2020, in Smyrna, Georgia
    © AFP 2020 / Elijah Nouvelage
    A woman and her children hand out water and snacks to people queuing for the US early vote.

    This triggered a flurry of advisories from election officials encouraging voters to drop off ballots at voting centers or opt to vote in person instead of relying on mail delivery.

    In an effort to allay concerns somewhat, election officials suggested many outstanding mail ballots might belong to voters who requested them early, only to eventually decide to vote in person.

    Out of 1.4 million requested, about 600,000 ballots remained outstanding in North Carolina, according to Damon Circosta, the Democratic chairman of the North Carolina State Board of Elections.

    “Some of those voters may have chosen already to go and vote early in person; some may vote on Election Day… But there’s still a significant number of outstanding absentee ballots, and we’re asking them to mail them or drop them off as soon as possible,” he was cited as saying.

    Georgia registered a similar situation, with approximately half a million ballots yet to be returned out of about 1.5 million requested.

    Georgia Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs was cited as lashing out at Donald Trump’s public attacks on voting by mail as possibly deterring some voters.

    The US President has often claimed that the procedure was ripe for fraud and suggested mail ballots may be “manipulated.”

    “This is going to be a fraud like you’ve never seen,” the president said, in reference to the shift to mail voting prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.

    In July, Donald Trump had also floated the idea of November's presidential election being postponed, saying increased postal voting could lead to fraud and inaccurate results.

    “You have a handful of candidates who are saying you can’t trust it… so you’re seeing a response from those who intended to vote absentee and are now going to vote in person,” said Fuchs.

    Extra Resources Mobilized

    As timely mail service plummeted to new lows across the country, according to new data from the US Postal Service, with on-time delivery rates in crucial battleground states dropping below 60 per cent, voters have also expressed concerns that delays could impede arrival of their ballots.

    In 17 postal districts representing 10 battleground states and 151 electoral votes, the average on-time delivery rate for first-class mail was 64.2 per cent on Tuesday. This registered a drop of 27.6 per cent as compared with their performance score at the beginning of the year.

    In Detroit, 52.6 per cent of Tuesday’s mail was on time. In Northern Ohio, 56 per cent; in Wisconsin, 60.7 per cent; in South Florida, 62.9 per cent.

    Postal Service leaders were cited as saying that moving election mail was a top priority, with extra resources mobilized.

    The Washington Post cited an internal memo as saying that post offices were taking “extraordinary measures”, such as ballot-only lines at service windows and drive-through ballot drop-off areas.
    Sorting and postmarking of ballots is to be done at local post offices instead of sending them to regional processing plants, the memo reportedly says.

    © REUTERS / Octavio Jones
    Florida resident Valentine Lugo casts his mail-in ballot at the Winter Garden Library polling station as early voting begins ahead of the election in Orlando, Florida, U.S. October 19, 2020

    Mail delivery concerns come as the agency has been under fire after Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a major donor to Donald Trump’s campaign and a former supply-chain logistics executive, took office in June.

    DeJoy implemented a spate of cost-cutting initiatives in July, that reportedly resulted in performance scores plummeting, albeit briefly rebounding towards summer’s end.

    On a national scale only 69.8 per cent of mail was on time on 27 October.
    On Tuesday DeJoy said the Postal Service would suspend those operational changes until after the 2020 election.

    The measures had included eliminating overtime for mail carriers, reducing post office hours and removing postal boxes. The directives had generated backlash and were faulted for slowing mail delivery.

    Early Turnout Hits Record Highs

    The US has seen unprecedented levels of early voting, triggered in part by the coronavirus pandemic.

    In several battleground states, early voting was close to surpassing 2016 turnout, according to data from The Post and the Elections Project at the University of Florida.

    As of Wednesday evening, about 36 per cent of registered voters have already cast ballots, according to a survey of election officials in all 50 states and Washington, DC, by CNN, Edison Research and Catalist.

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    Joe Biden, Donald Trump, US Election 2020
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