By Dan Blair, former Chairman of the Postal Regulatory Commission, former Academy President, and Academy Fellow
As Election Day approaches, the U.S. Postal Service is under increasing pressure. Compounding the agency’s woes of declining mail volume, high expenses, and mounting debt and liabilities, now American election results may hinge on its ability to deliver a huge surge of mail-in ballots during a global health pandemic. The election outcomes will determine not only our new political leaders, but also impact the policy path that the Postal Service will follow in the years to come.
For the past several election cycles, early voting in person and voting by mail have been offered in an effort to make voting more accessible and democratic. Voting is fundamental to our democracy, which is why the National Academy of Public Administration named Protect Electoral Integrity and Enhance Voter Participation as one of the 12 Grand Challenges in Public Administration.
Some states, like Oregon and Washington, have relied on voting by mail for years. But this election, the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing large groups of voters across the country to cast their ballots by mail for the first time. While the real challenges lay at the local level where election officials will be charged with tabulating these votes, the increase in mail volume will stress test the Postal Service’s capacity to deliver the ballots in an accurate and timely fashion.