Just days before the Nov. 3 election, mail delivery is being delayed at times in a critical Florida district, South Florida’s letter carrier union chief said Friday — and extraordinary measures are being considered to alleviate the bottleneck.
Mail that should already have been delivered has been piling up at the Princeton post office in South Miami-Dade County near Homestead, according to Mark Travers, South Florida president for the National Association of Letter Carriers. Travers said he first learned of the backup more than a week ago, on Wednesday, Oct. 21. He raised the matter in a call that Friday with other Florida mail officials, who said they would address the issue.
A week later, it appeared the backlog remained, Travers said. He has since been told that additional resources, including more trucks, would be sent to the area, and that carriers would be asked to work to their “contractual maximum” to get the mail out.
He also said officials are now considering delivering mail this Sunday to alleviate the backlog.
“They said they’ll be current by [Saturday],” Travers said. “I’m not sure I believe that.”
In a statement at 9 p.m. Friday, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle said she was troubled by the “massive” delay in mail delivery at the South Dade facility. She said she has asked the U.S. Postal Service to inspect every mail distribution center in the county and immediately take any ballots that remain there to the county’s elections department.
Fernández Rundle said she was working with the elections department and the USPS inspector general’s office “to make sure that all ballots are accounted for and all votes are counted.”
“I have offered the full resources of the State Attorney’s Elections Task Force to Elections Supervisor Cristina White and South Florida’s Special Agent in Charge of the United States Postal Inspector’s Office Antonio Gomez,” Fernández Rundle said.
Representatives for USPS and the USPS inspector general’s office could not immediately be reached for comment Friday night. Miami-Dade State Attorney spokesman Ed Griffith said the office has asked for, but can’t order, an audit of the county’s postal facilities.
At 12:30 p.m. Friday, State Rep. Kionne McGhee tweeted a brief, undated video clip purporting to show mail stacked up at the Princeton post office with the caption, “Raw footage of mailroom in post office here in Miami Dade. Source revealed ‘mail in ballots are within these piled up in bins on the floor. Mail has been sitting for over week!’”
In a follow-up tweet, McGhee wrote, “Per source — both Post Master and Postal Inspector are aware of this issue at the Princeton post office. Post Master is taking photos and videos of the matter and expect sorting to take them past Tuesday.”
McGhee, the outgoing Democratic leader of the Florida House and a candidate for county commission in Miami-Dade’s southernmost district, told the Miami Herald the footage in his tweet was taken Friday, and that it was provided to him directly from the person who filmed it. In a statement around 5 p.m., McGhee said the video was sent to him “from a concerned postal worker who was disturbed by what they were seeing.”
The video, McGhee said, “means we have a lot more work to do to ensure that the integrity of our voting system, our mail system and our nation remains intact.”
“I call on the Postal Service to correct this and promise the citizens of Miami-Dade that these ballots will be delivered in time,” McGhee said. “I call on [Florida Secretary of State] Laurel Lee ... and Governor Ron DeSantis to use their power and influence to guarantee every valid vote in Florida is counted.”
Travers confirmed that the footage showed the Princeton post office, but said he could not identify any ballots.
Still, he said, “It shouldn’t look like that — it shouldn’t be that backed up. No one person could clear that out in one day. It should not be that backed up. It needs to be moving out quicker.”
Raw footage of mailroom in post office here in Miami Dade. Source revealed “mail in ballots are within these piled up in bins on the floor. Mail has been sitting for over week!.” @AmandiOnAir @PeterSchorschFL @MarcACaputo @GlennaWPLG @CNNPolitics @NewsbySmiley @realDonaldTrump pic.twitter.com/DO8jx1VUnz
— Dem House Leader (@kionnemcghee) October 30, 2020
Later Friday, McGhee tweeted that USPS Inspection Service officials had arrived at the Princeton office, along with a video that appeared to show an Inspection Service cruiser with its strobe lights on. The Inspection Service did not immediately respond to an email request for comment from the Miami Herald.
Travers confirmed the inspectors’ arrival late Friday, and said postal officials would now “pour resources in from all over the district to get all mail delivered.”
In a statement 4 p.m. Friday, U.S. Postal Service spokeswoman Debbie Fetterly said the USPS was looking into the matter.
The state attorney’s statement said the USPS inspector general had taken “administrative action” in response to “the employee’s negligence at the Princeton distribution center.” It wasn’t immediately clear which employee the statement was referring to. A spokeswoman for the USPS inspector general’s office could not be reached for comment Friday night.
A Miami-Dade elections spokeswoman said she didn’t have additional information at about 4 p.m. Friday, but she said the USPS provided reassurance that any ballots will be delivered on time.
“We are aware of the footage and immediately reported this to our contact at the U.S. Postal Service,” said Miami-Dade Deputy Elections Supervisor Suzy Trutie. “They are looking into the matter and have assured us that all ballots will be delivered timely.”
In a statement Friday afternoon, a campaign spokesman for Miami-Dade mayoral candidate Daniella Levine Cava called the footage from McGhee’s tweet “incredibly disturbing” and called on county elections officials to respond.
“In the middle of a public health crisis, voters must know that their mail-in ballots are delivered on time and counted,” spokesman Christian Ulvert said. “Voters deserve a full explanation and total transparency on the status of their votes.”
The backup in Princeton runs counter to efforts to expedite mail delivery in the run-up to Election Day. In an Oct. 20 memo obtained by the Miami Herald, USPS officials outlined a number of new measures “to help support the timely delivery of Election Mail,” including expedited handling and extra deliveries, to deliver ballots on time.
Earlier this week, the Miami Herald reported that some 120 residents at an elder-care facility in Little Haiti had gone nearly seven days in October without mail. One resident whose ballot was mailed out by Miami-Dade elections Oct. 8. didn’t initially receive it. Ultimately, it appeared in her mailbox on Tuesday, 19 days later.
Over the summer, several factors made it more difficult for the U.S. Postal Service to deliver mail on time. Among them, according to postal workers’ union representatives: staffing shortages due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the removal of mail sorting machines, and policy changes limiting overtime hours.
The internal changes coincided with the appointment in June of a new U.S. Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, and with unfounded criticisms by President Donald Trump about the agency’s ability to safely handle election mail.
In multiple lawsuits, federal judges have ordered the USPS to take steps to ensure as many mail ballots as possible are received on time. During a virtual hearing last week in Miami federal court, an attorney said the rate of on-time first-class mail delivery in South Florida was around 83% in early October, down from about 92% earlier in the year.
But local union officials say the situation has improved substantially since August amid pressure from the public and the courts. Perhaps most notably, 10-hour days with overtime pay are back in play, said Wanda Harris, the Miami-area president of the American Postal Workers Union. Postal workers are used to working 10-hour days so that mail that may have taken longer to process gets delivered on time. With the overtime cuts, Harris said in August, post office trucks were “leaving mail behind” because workers needed to keep to a strict eight-hour schedule.
Since then, “everything went back to normal,” Harris said, adding that the USPS appears to have an “open checkbook” to process mail until the election.
Travers, the president of the Miami branch of the National Association of Letter Carriers, agreed. “Through the election, they’re not cutting back anything,” he said. “They initially were, but then when the uproar hit, they pivoted relatively quickly.”
In an Oct. 21 court filing, the USPS denied that overtime had ever been eliminated.
“Overtime use has not been banned, nor have any caps been placed on overtime hours,” the agency said.
Across Miami-Dade County, 3% of the record number of voters who requested mail ballots for the Nov. 3 election (20,342 out of 674,527) asked for replacement ballots by Saturday’s deadline. That’s up from 2.2% in 2016.