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How Long Does It Really Take For A Letter To Get Through The Mail?

A United States Postal Service mail truck on a residential road.
Pope Moysuh on Unsplash

Voting rights groups are urging voters to cast their ballots through the mail because of concerns about the coronavirus. But they caution, in order for those votes to count, ballots have to get to the election supervisor’s office by election day. And policy changes at the post office are raising concerns about a mail slowdown. Some groups have recommended sending in ballots 7-to-14 days before the deadline. And Leon County’s supervisor of elections says if you haven’t sent your vote-by-mail primary ballot in by now, your best bet is likely dropping it off in one of the county’s ballot drop boxes or at the elections office. But how late is really too late? WFSU checks into how long it really takes something to go through the mail.

It took two days from the time WJCT News Director Jessica Palombo and her son Wren dropped in a letter in the mail box at their home in Jacksonville for it to get to my house here in Tallahassee.

Two days seems pretty fast. Especially as experts, including American Postal Workers Union President Mark Dimondstein, say mail delivery is seeing a slowdown. Dimondstein spoke on PBS’s News Hour.

“All the reports we’re getting from the people we represent, who are working the mail, sorting the mail, working in retail units helping to get letter carriers out on the street is these delays are real," Dimondstein says. "It runs counter to everything that dedicated postal workers stand for. We treat the mail as our own. We believe in our motto and the law—prompt reliable services and prompt means speedy."

So, why’s the mail slowing down? Part of that could be an impact from the coronavirus. In June, the Wallstreet Journal reported short staff and an onslaught of package deliveries were causing a backlog of mail. Another reason could stem from changes a newly appointed post master general has implemented.

“He’s instituted some policies in a very arbitrary way in our view that’s cutting the hours of the workers, and that means if the same worker is there and you cut hours then the work can’t get done, changing transportation of mail, and changing some of the directives on whether people can wait to go out on a delivery site to get to your home and your business,” Dimondstein says.

Dimondstein says the changes have led to what he calls “degraded” mail service.

The New Post Master General is Louis Dejoy, a fundraiser for the Republican National Convention and supporter of President Donald Trump. He took over the job in June. In a statement, Dejoy said his goal is to address the postal system’s “financially unsustainable position.” Others, including former President Barack Obama, say there’s more at play. Obama spoke during the funeral for Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis.

“There are those in power doing their darnedest to discourage people from voting — by closing polling locations, and targeting minorities and students with restrictive ID laws, and attacking our voting rights with surgical precision, even undermining the Postal Service in the run-up to an election that is going to be dependent on mailed-in ballots so people don’t get sick," Obama said.

An investigation by American Public Media shows mail delivery has slowed in 5 battle ground states—including Florida.

To learn more I decided to conduct my own unofficial experiment. I asked people around the state to send me letters.

I even roped in family members from outside the state to send me letters-- like my Brother Kevin and his wife Bethany

Kevin and Bethany’s letter look about four days to get from their house in Texas to my house in Florida. It arrived Monday, August 3. A letter from my parents in Indiana took about the same amount of time. Both those trips spanned a weekend. And since letters aren’t delivered on Sunday, that added a day. Most of the letters sent from within the state took two to three days to arrive at my house. What surprised me most though, is how long it took letters mailed from within Tallahassee to reach my house.

I drove to post offices and mail boxes around the city to send letters back to myself. I mailed the first batch August 10. The bulk of those letters took about 2 days to get here. One took three days. Another, sent from the post office closest to my house, took four days. And one more still had not arrived at the time of this writing.

Overall, nothing I sent took the 7 to 14 days some experts have recommended for getting ballots to the elections office before the deadline on election day. But as data shows mail services slowing down, it might not be worth risking it for something as important as your vote. Voters can still skip the line and reduce their risk of getting sick from the coronavirus by filling out a mail-in-ballot at home and hand delivering it to their local elections office anytime between now and the time polls close on election day.