New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver reminds the public of ways they can vote in the upcoming primary election. She encourages people to fill out an absentee ballot and only to vote at polls if absolutely necessary.

Amid nationwide scrutiny over how the U.S. Postal Service will handle an expected historic surge in voting by mail this November, New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said Thursday she remains confident Postmaster General Louis DeJoy will ensure election mail is a priority during the presidential election.

Toulouse Oliver, who also is president of the National Association of Secretaries of State, took part in a one-hour phone conversation with DeJoy, other U.S. Postal Service officials and fellow secretaries of state from across the country Thursday. In an interview following the meeting, Toulouse Oliver said DeJoy repeatedly assured her and others on the call that federal mail officials understand the importance of ensuring that ballots cast my mail arrive on time and at the intended mailing address.

It’s the second time Toulouse Oliver and other secretaries of state have spoken with DeJoy about concerns surrounding absentee voting after a similar conversation in late August.

“I think the biggest takeaway is that the postmaster general and his staff have come to deeply know and understand the absolute scrutiny that comes with a presidential election, and those officials that have a role in conducting that election.

“To me it seems there really is at least an expressed deep and abiding commitment to ensuring a successful election process for those who choose to use the mail to vote,” she continued. “But again, the proof is going to be in the pudding — we’re gonna have to make sure that we keep those lines of communication going and those accountability mechanisms in place so that they can meet those expectations at the end of the day.”

Doubt over how U.S. mail carriers will handle the flood of absentee votes mounted after reports of changes to post office procedure many feared would result in absentee ballots arriving too late to be counted. Misinformation about voting by mail from President Donald Trump also fanned the flames.

DeJoy said in August the Postal Service is delaying any planned changes at mail distribution centers until after the November election.

But ballots arriving on time and at the correct mailing address has been a longstanding problem in New Mexico, according to emails obtained by The New Mexican through an open records request.

More than 2,400 absentee ballots arrived in the mail in the six days after the June 2 primary and weren’t counted, according to data from the Secretary of State’s Office.

A report from Senate Democrats in Congress released this week also showed that there have been demonstrable mail delays after DeJoy instituted changes in mail procedure, including tighter schedules for trucks leaving federal mail distribution centers.

According to the report, which cited data put together by staff for U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, a Michigan Democrat, Postal Service districts across the country have seen the amount of mail delivered on time decline by 9.1 percent in early August compared to the week before changes within the Postal Service were instituted this year.

The report argues that 85 million more late deliveries of mail have occurred nationwide in the second week of August than would have happened without changes in mail procedure.

“Obviously, it’s a concern,” Toulouse Oliver said in an interview Thursday with The New Mexican.

“And one of the things that we’ve been hearing consistently from the Postal Service is to encourage voters to apply for a ballot as soon as you can,” the secretary of state continued. “Don’t wait until the last minute because as was reiterated on the call today, they can’t guarantee that a ballot mailed past that seven-day deadline will in fact get back to the local election on time. They’ve been very forthcoming about that.”

But Toulouse Oliver said any changes that may have been pending in New Mexico have either not occurred, were halted or reversed.

“The Albuquerque central plant has all of its processing equipment — it has not been moved out of the plant,” she said. “Again, these issues concerning letter carriers and their ability to work overtime or to make extra trips, that policy — I’m not sure if that ever officially went into effect, but if so, it’s been reversed.”

Still, the secretary of state says people should not necessarily expect to see some statewide races decided on election night.

The expected flood of absentee ballots arriving on Election Day or shortly before could overwhelm county clerks across the state and country, potentially leading to delays in determining the winner of the 2020 presidential election.

“There may be a race or two in the state or quite a few that we don’t know the outcome” for days, Toulouse Oliver said Thursday morning during an online symposium hosted by the nonprofit New Mexico Ethics Watch.

Trevor Potter with the Washington, D.C.-based Campaign Legal Center, known nationally for setting up late night comedian Stephen Colbert’s super PAC, said during the same symposium he’s referring to Election Day as “election week” to dispel any illusions that people are likely to go to bed Nov. 3 knowing whether President Donald Trump or Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden won the election.

Potter is former chairman of the Federal Election Commission and was general counsel to the late John McCain’s 2000 and 2008 presidential campaigns.

“On election night, we are used to hearing vote totals within an hour or two of the polls closing,” Potter said. “What none of that takes into account is the situation we are going to have this year where a very large number of voters, clearly more than enough to swing any election, have voted on paper [by mail].”

“And the problem is that those are not counted, the states do not begin to count those until Election Day and election night. Some states ... don’t even touch the envelopes until election night.”

(1) comment

John Cook

First, I appreciate MTO talking to the Postmaster General in an effort to ensure ordinary mail service. However, what cause is there to believe the assurances of a political hack who has been made Postmaster General for the sole purpose of not delivering mail-in ballots? DeJoy has that position only because the President wants ballots to not be delivered on time. Do we really think DeJoy is going to move away from those instructions?

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