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Forsyth County officials prepared for mail-in ballots despite decline in USPS service
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File photo - photo by Brian Paglia

Even as the United States Postal Service faces financial woes exacerbated by the global pandemic and the likelihood of in-person voting declines nationwide, local officials believe that, at least in Forsyth County, voters do not need to worry about ballots being processed in time for the November general election.

One employee, who works as a mail carrier at a post office in Forsyth County and asked to remain anonymous, did say that local service has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

The USPS has been struggling financially for several years now. According to a 2018 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the USPS’s finances were “deteriorating and unsustainable,” showing that the postal service had lost at least $69 billion between 2007 and 2018.

“USPS financial viability continues to be high risk because USPS cannot fund its current level of services and financial obligations from its revenues,” the report states.

It seems now, all over the U.S., these financial issues within post offices have been heightened in recent months.

In a statement released in August, officials with the USPS said that sales during the pandemic made from mail services, where the agency brings in much of its revenue, have reduced significantly while the number of packages has gone up, causing an increase in operational costs.

In recent months, however, the same post office employee said he has seen this same drop in mail services at the post office in Forsyth County. He said he saw a significant decrease in the number of letters he is delivering to the more than 800 mailboxes on his route.

“The pandemic has devastated the post office,” he said.

Many residents have pointed out drops in service that they have noticed in just the last few months, including issues with delivering mail on time, tracking of packages and even delivering mail to the correct address.

“I have definitely seen a slow down or delay in getting things,” resident Erin Elizabeth said. “Our mail guy is super friendly and reliable, so I feel it is more of a distribution problem than a delivery day issue.”

Others have reported missing packages, including needed medication. Resident Stacy Wheeler said that she was expecting five packages that all went missing in the span of less than two months.

“At least once a week I have neighbors who receive multiple packages that are meant for other houses in completely different parts of the city,” resident Andrew Ross said. “Seems to have been getting worse over the past two months. I can’t believe there are people who want mail-in ballots. I trust the USPS to successfully not lose and deliver my mail on time about as much as I trust my dog not to eat my food if I walk away.”

Mandi Smith, director of Forsyth County Voter Registration and Elections, said that the county has been able to handle and process a growing number of mail-in ballots that the elections office first saw during the primary elections earlier this year.

Smith said that the Forsyth County elections office issued more than 38,000 absentee ballots for the primary in June, and more than 28,000 ballots were returned by mail.

As of now, she said they have already issued more than 18,000 absentee ballots in the county for the general election in November — an already significant increase from the usual 4,000-8,000 total absentee ballots.

“That number is definitely going to grow,” Smith said.

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The same post office employee suggested that Forsyth County may have a unique ability to keep up with the mail-in ballots since the main post office in Cumming is only a short distance from the election's office.

Both the employee and Smith said that, as they get closer to election day, the post office in Forsyth actually begins to separate ballots from the rest of the mail they receive and instead run it directly to the election’s office so that they can ensure it will be processed by election day.

Voters can request a ballot by mail up until Oct. 30, but Smith warned that it is always better to request a ballot earlier rather than later.

“My recommendation would be, if you choose to vote by mail, to go ahead and put your request in as early as possible,” Smith said. “That way, we can go ahead and get that processed and get that ballot to you.”

After sending in an application to request a ballot, voters can track their ballot’s progress through the Secretary of State’s website on their My Voter page:

Once the application is processed, voters can see on their My Voter page the date the elections office received their application, the date the ballot was mailed to them and the date the office received the completed ballot.

Smith said that voters can also contact the elections office directly with questions about their ballot.

For residents who are worried about voting in-person and are still skeptical of the USPS and its ability to deliver ballots in time, there are several other ways that residents can vote.

Smith explained that those that already requested or plan to request an absentee ballot by mail can, instead of mailing the ballot back in, can drop the ballot off in a dropbox that is situated just outside of the election's office.

Voters do not have to enter the building to use the dropbox. It is there for use 24/7 in a well-lit area that is always watched by a surveillance camera, and no postage is required to drop it off.

Those who do not wish to vote with an absentee ballot or in-person on Election Day can take advantage of the 11 advance voting locations that will be set up for three weeks throughout the county starting on Oct. 12.

Advanced voting serves as an extra option for those that cannot make it to polls on election day or who are worried about possible crowding at the polls.

Smith said that, based off previous elections, Forsyth County has a high voter turnout for presidential election years. She expects around 80-90% of voters turning out for the upcoming election, and she said there are more than 166,000 registered voters currently in the county.

“I would encourage folks to take advantage of the advanced voting opportunities that are out there and not wait until the last day, which is Election Day,” Smith said.

For more information on advanced voting times and locations, visit the Voter Registrations and Elections department’s website.

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