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Opinion: Postal Service slowdown? Pfft. Californians don’t need the USPS to cast their ballot safely

A vote-by-mail drop at La Cañada Flintridge City Hall on March 3, 2020
A vote-by-mail drop-off location at La Cañada Flintridge City Hall on March 3.
(Sara Cardine / La Cañada Valley Sun)

President Trump has been badmouthing vote-by-mail ballots for some time now, claiming without any evidence that this perfectly acceptable form of voting he himself practices leads to widespread fraud.

But he has moved beyond mere trash talk and is now actively assaulting democracy by resisting efforts to give the U.S. Postal Service the emergency funding it needs to process the expected flood of ballots mailed by voters hoping to avoid crowding at the polls while an infectious disease is still lurking.

Meanwhile, the USPS has been engaging in some alarming activities under the direction of a generous Trump campaign donor, Louis DeJoy, who was handpicked by Trump appointees to be postmaster general. These include removing mailboxes in some U.S. cities (a practice the service said it suspended Friday afternoon), decommissioning hundreds of mail sorting machines across the country and making procedural changes that have slowed down regular mail delivery.

I can almost hear the president muttering, “Let people get the China virus if they want to vote against me so badly.”

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But here’s why I’m not overly worried about the postal chicanery when it comes to my own vote on Nov. 3: I live in a state that has been preparing for this moment for years.

Well, maybe not exactly this moment. Who imagined that the U.S. might simultaneously face the threats of a deadly pandemic and a former reality-star president intent on undermining democracy in order to keep himself in power?

Four years ago, California lawmakers passed the Voter’s Choice Act, an election modernization law designed to make it easier for people to vote. In so doing, they in set in motion a system that will give the most populous U.S. state at least some cover in the coming election storm.

The act allowed but did not require counties to dump the clunky, old-school method of voting at assigned precincts on election day in favor of strategically placed voting centers that open 10 days before the election for in-person voting and to accept dropped-off ballots. Part of the change entails sending a ballot to every registered voter.

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So far, 15 counties including Los Angeles County deliberately adopted this model. The rest are being hustled into an emergency form of Voter’s Choice Act by the governor’s order to mail a ballot to every voter this fall. (That sounds more impressive than it actually is. Roughly three-fourths of state voters were already receiving a ballot by mail before the pandemic.)

Though Californians will still rely on snail mail — the nickname never seemed so apt before — to receive a blank ballot, the vast majority can bypass the unpredictability of the U.S. Postal Service and the risk of in-person voting by using a ballot drop-off box at any vote center in their county. For those who must mail a ballot, this year the three-day grace period has been extended to 17 days after the election.

Is this system perfect? Of course not — no system is. In the March primary, more than 100,000, or 1.5%, of the 7 million mail ballots cast were disqualified for various reasons, though by far the most common problem was that the ballots either were postmarked after election day or didn’t arrive at elections headquarters within the grace period.

Nevertheless, California’s approach will give voters here one less thing to worry about than residents in many other states, who may just have to rely on a Postal Service the president appears determined to render unreliable.


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