PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The U.S. Postal Service has given the green light to Rhode Island’s mail ballot deadlines, at the same time the agency reportedly warned multiple other states that their mail ballot deadlines were too tight for the post office to handle.
In a letter to R.I. Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea dated July 31, the Postal Service’s general counsel and executive vice president, Thomas J. Marshall, wrote, “it appears that your voters should have sufficient time to receive, complete, and return their ballots by the state’s deadlines.”
The deadline to request a mail ballot for the Sept. 8 primary is Aug. 18, which is 21 days before the election. The three weeks should give the post office enough time to get the ballots to voters and then return them to elections officials, once a voter places it back in the mail.
“Please keep in mind that your state’s deadline appears to be compatible with the Postal Service’s delivery standards only if election officials transmit blank ballots to voters in a timely manner,” Marshall wrote. (Rhode Island is mailing its ballots to voters directly from the printer, which is located in Washington state.)
He noted that if Rhode Island allows voters to request a ballot after the deadline, “there may be a risk that the voter will not have sufficient time for it to arrive by the state’s return deadline.”
Since Rhode Island law requires ballots be received by election day, Marshall said it’s important that voters get their ballots in the mail at least seven days before the election.
Rhode Island is one of only four states whose deadlines were acceptable to the Postal Service, according to The Washington Post, which reported that 46 states and Washington, D.C., all received letters saying the post office could not guarantee all mail ballots would arrive in time to be counted.
The post office is expecting a barrage of additional election mail this year, as voters choose to cast their ballots safely from home rather than enter a polling place due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Massachusetts got one of the warning letters, in which Marshall called the state’s deadlines “incompatible” with the post office’s delivery timelines. The deadline to request a primary ballot in Massachusetts is Aug. 26, six days before the Sept. 1 primary.
Debra O’Malley, a spokesperson for Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin, said his office advocated for a new law that pushed the deadline back from its previous deadline, which was just one day before the election.
“Nonetheless, we absolutely encourage all voters to apply and return their ballots as soon as possible, to ensure timely delivery,” O’Malley said. “Voters may also hand-deliver their ballots or deliver them to secured municipal drop boxes, if their city or town has provided them.”
Gorbea’s office started sending out ballots to Rhode Island voters who requested them on Thursday, after a delay while awaiting a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Rhode Island’s two-witness or notary requirement. The requirement to get signatures had been suspended by a consent decree and subsequent court order in light of the pandemic, but local and national Republicans fought the relaxation of the rules up to the nation’s highest court.
The Supreme Court denied the GOP’s request for an emergency stay on Thursday, paving the way for Gorbea to send out more than 16,000 mail ballots without the witness or notary requirements. The GOP officially dropped the appeal on Friday.
Rhode Island sent mail ballot applications to all voters for the June presidential primary but is not doing so for the September state primary. Senate President Dominick Ruggerio rejected the idea, saying it would cost too much money for what is expected to be a relatively low-turnout primary.
Instead, voters must fill out an application and submit it to their local Board of Canvassers by Aug. 18 to get a mail ballot.
Gorbea said voters who do not mail their ballot request forms this weekend may want to go directly to their local boards to drop it off, to ensure that their request makes it by Tuesday’s deadline.
It’s still possible that mail ballot applications could be sent to all voters ahead of the November election, according to Gorbea’s spokesperson, but a decision has not yet been made.
Steph Machado (email@example.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter covering Providence, politics and more for 12 News. Connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook.