Wednesday, Aug. 5 is the last day U.S. Postal Service workers say Multnomah County voters should mail their ballots for the Aug. 11 special election if they want their votes to be counted.
That's one day earlier than the Aug. 6 deadline set by the Multnomah County Elections Division. But letter carriers warn that the Post Office is now so mismanaged it cannot be trusted to promptly deliver mailed ballots to the elections office.
"The way the mail is piled up, it's just haphazard," says Jamie Partridge, a retired letter carrier in Portland for 28 years and an organizer with Communities and Postal Workers United. "We used to say, 'Get your ballot in the mail by Friday before [election day].' Then we were saying, 'Get your ballot in the mail by Thursday.' What we're saying now is: Give it another day. And who knows if that's even going to be enough?"
The allegation of mismanagement is part of a labor dispute by postal employees who object to new workplace rules. The postal workers union plans to picket Aug. 5 outside the Rose City Park neighborhood post office.
But unlike most such disputes, this one includes claims about the trustworthiness of Oregon elections.
If true, such incompetence undermines the integrity of Oregon's vote-by-mail system—one that state officials are defending against a barrage of disparagement from President Donald Trump.
The workers say that's no coincidence. They allege the mess comes from three Portland-area post offices testing out new directives issued last month by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump appointee.
Partridge says DeJoy's new program, called "Pivot for Our Future," has clogged up the mail system and jeopardized vote by mail nationwide. "The delay of the mail can impact our democracy," he says. "This has huge implications for the election this fall."
The Washington Post reported that DeJoy told employees in an internal memo that "major operational changes" were needed to cut costs and save the federal agency. This included cutting overtime hours of an already understaffed workforce and demanding that if workers gathering mail for delivery run even a minute late, they must leave that mail behind and get it the next day, delaying delivery by one whole day.
Larry Guarnero, a steward with the American Postal Workers Union who's worked at the Portland mail processing facility for 14 years, says DeJoy is directly responsible for causing delays in delivery services. "It's absolutely maddening," Guarnero says.
In an email to WW, USPS spokesman Ernie Swanson said the postal service is committed to delivering mail in a timely manner, but said voters must use first-class mail or an "expedited level of service" when returning their ballots.
Multnomah County Elections says it is working closely with USPS, as it has done for the last two decades. "For the August election, we have been assured by our local USPS liaison, Danny Rogers, that we should expect the same service as always and that our Aug. 6 'last day to safely mail your ballot back' is adequate," said Tim Scott, director of Multnomah County Elections. "As we plan for the Nov. 3 general election, we are closely monitoring information about USPS operations."
What should voters do if they're reading this on Thursday, Aug. 6? Find one of the ballot drop-off sites across Portland, including at all branches of the Multnomah County Library.