As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) took hold in the spring, regular citizens, business owners, and organizations expressed concern about the impact the pandemic would have on mail distribution in the United States.
At the outset of the outbreak, researchers raced to learn as much as possible about the disease, including whether it could be transmitted by touching certain surfaces, including packages. Beyond that, the public was unsure about how postal workers would carry on amid stay-at-home orders forcing about one-third of Americans to work from home.
Somehow, the United States Postal Service (USPS), often unfairly maligned, carried on without a blip. Even as our daily lives were upended, the mail kept coming and packages were being delivered.
Meanwhile, certain businesses were granted “essential” status, allowing them to continue operating. Among the firms that received that designation was YesElections, enabling us to count mailed ballots and help finalize elections without missing a beat. Since many member-based organizations are legally mandated to hold elections, the pandemic, while perhaps making it impossible for groups to host on-site contests, didn’t prevent people from casting ballots via the mail or through online voting.
While we’re proud of how our staff coped with the crisis and remained professional throughout, we wouldn’t have been able to tabulate votes that arrived by mail without USPS powering through the crisis. Due to our “essential” designation and the work of the USPS, our clients were largely unaffected by the crisis, enabling them to effectively perform their election duties.
Since we’re still very much in the middle of the pandemic and public health officials are warning of a potential second wave, let’s examine the Postal Service’s role during the crisis and how it largely avoided significant disruptions.
Delivering Through A Lockdown
As states across the country instituted lockdown measures to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus, the USPS vowed to continue the complicated task of delivering mail, packages, and essential items while contending with the first pandemic in a century.
In a letter to the public in March, Postmaster General Megan Brennan said she did not “expect disruption or degradation” in services.
The USPS implemented daily “operational assessments and responses” as the coronavirus threat worsened in China, Brennan said in her letter. Additionally, it installed a “COVID-19 Response Command Structure” charged with not only responding to the pandemic but anticipating how conditions might change.
“We have experienced only minor operational limitations, almost entirely related to international flow of mail resulting from logistical restraints,” Brennan said. “With regard to our overall business, we are seeing some changes due to the fact that many more people are now working from home or spending more time in the home.”
Reducing Exposure To COVID-19
To minimize the risk of spreading the coronavirus inside its facilities, the USPS instituted guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other public health organizations. To protect employees, it leveraged its supply chain to distribute “millions of masks, gloves and cleaning and sanitizing products” to 30,000-plus locations nationwide, the agency said in an April update.
Along with mandating social distancing measures, the USPS installed “cough/sneeze” barriers in some facilities, placed signs to remind people to safely distance and used floor tape to designate where people should stand.
At the same time, the USPS expanded paid leave and its sick leave program so “covered employees” could care for dependents.
How The Postal Service Pivoted During The Covid-19 Pandemic
Brennan acknowledged in a March letter that “logistical restraints” contributed to a disruption to international deliveries. That was due in large part to a significant reduction in airline traffic as cases erupted in the United States and around the world.
In response, the USPS announced in late April that due to “widespread air cancellations” it would deliver international mail via ships, with the first such voyage leaving the US on April 20. As of this publication, the USPS has performed six transports by sea, with vessels departing from Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, and New York. Most of the shipments have been made to European destinations, with the only exception being a May 23 delivery to Brazil.
“Alternate transit options will remain in effect until sufficient air transportation capacity becomes available,” the USPS said on June 4, its most recent update.
Despite the agency’s best efforts, the coronavirus pandemic has forced delivery suspensions to dozens of countries, including many Latin American and African nations.
Elections Continue Despite COVID-19
While the conditions caused by the pandemic have caused many member-based organizations to either cancel conferences and related events, elections have continued.
Since mail distribution in the US was largely unaffected by the virus, paper voting by mail remains a viable option for member-based organizations with upcoming elections.
Online voting, which grows in popularity each year, is considered the most convenient method of voting because members can complete ballots on digital devices from the comfort of their homes. For organizations that were forced to cancel on-site elections over the last few months, online voting is perhaps the best alternative because ballots can be counted and verified quicker than through paper voting.
If mail balloting is your preferred method, the performance of the Postal Service during this tumultuous time combined with essential status granted to election management agencies such as YesElections should give you confidence that your election can operate as efficiently as possible.
For more than a decade, YesElections has managed elections throughout the United States. Our investment in state-of-the-art security makes us one of the most reliable election management agencies in the nation. To learn more about how YesElections can help your organization, request a free consultation, today.