Two Santa Fe County voters who mailed their absentee ballots from Loveland, Colorado, were dismayed on Friday to find those ballots returned a week after mailing them in. Dusty Jones and Micaela Butts were mid-move to New Orleans—driving through Mississippi with voters' rights much on their minds—when they contacted SFR to report the misdirect and see if others were affected.
"Whether his happens to one person or 500 people, the system should be working," Jones says. "There should be extra awareness around things like this. I don't want to hear about this happening to other people, regardless of who they're voting for."
Nothing marked the ballots to indicate anything was wrong.
The US Postal Service has admitted they're "aware of an issue." Some ballots' return addresses have been misread by a mail sorting machine as the delivery address. Postal employees have been instructed not to deliver those envelopes to their sender, according to Peter Hass, with USPS corporate communications.
"These issues are isolated and the vast majority of ballots are being delivered to elections officials without incident," Hass said via email. The matter will be thoroughly investigated, and postal carriers encouraged to do what they can to expedite the delivery of mail-in ballots, he added.
"We would like to assure our customers that we are working closely with elections officials and addressing any isolated issues as they arise to ensure we process and deliver vote-by-mail ballots in a timely manner," he wrote.
Any customers who experience the issue should notify their local Post Office, and the USPS recommends mailing ballots no later than a week before Election Day (Nov. 8).
"It's a citizen right, and it's really upsetting that something like an error at the postal office—an error that's not on our end—is preventing us from casting our vote," Butts says. "It's our right, and it's stressful because it is a heated election."
So far, Jones' call to the Santa Fe County Clerk's office is the only report of a ballot returned to sender, says Steve Fresquez, with the Bureau of Elections for the county.
"I don't have any idea how many people are going to be affected," he says. "Nobody else has called in."
Santa Fe County mailed out 5,604 absentee ballots, and 3,195 have been returned. Voters have until 7 pm on Election Day to return those ballots—by mail, or hand delivered to a voting precinct or the county clerk's office. Concerned voters can call the office (505-986-6280) to confirm their ballot has been returned.
Butts' mother is taking their ballots back to the post office to re-send their ballots, and they hope they'll make it here in time.
This story has been updated following an explanation from the US Postal Service.