If Utahns cast by-mail ballots a week early, postmaster general is confident of on-time delivery

(US Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs via AP) In this image from video, U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy testifies during a virtual hearing before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee on the U.S. Postal Service during COVID-19 and the upcoming elections, Friday, Aug. 21, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington.

The U.S. Postal Service earlier this month urged Utah voters to cast their by-mail ballots a week before Election Day, Nov. 3, and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said Friday that he’s “extremely, highly confident” about on-time delivery if all Americans will do that.

That came as Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, asked DeJoy in a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing, “If people vote within seven days of the election, are you highly confident that those ballots would be received?”

“Extremely, highly confident,” DeJoy said. “We will scour every plant each night leading up to Election Day” and deliver the ballots on time.

In some states, ballots must arrive by Election Day to be counted. In Utah as long as ballots are postmarked by the day before Election Day, they will be counted as long as they arrive before the end of a two-week canvass period.

While President Donald Trump has attacked voting by mail as unreliable and easy to manipulate, Romney noted that it has worked well for years in Utah. It is one of five states that have used the system for years, and the only one that does not lean Democratic.

“Postal workers have made our vote-by-mail system in Utah a reliable and a very successful system,” Romney said.

Romney used his differences with Trump — including being the only Republican senator to vote for his impeachment — as a lighthearted way to offer some defense of DeJoy. The new postmaster general, a Trump megadonor, is besieged with allegations he has acted to deliberately slow delivery by such things as eliminating employee overtime, dismantling sorting machines and removing mail collection boxes.

Romney noted DeJoy’s denials that his actions will not hurt voting by mail “have to be tempered by the fact the president has made repeated claims that mail-in voting will be fraudulent or that he doesn’t want to get more money to the post office because without more money, you can’t have universal mail-in voting.”

But the Utah senator then added, “A great deal has been made of the fact that you contributed to President Trump’s campaign. I would note that you also generously contributed to my campaign. Some people would say that you’ve contributed to both sides.”

That brought perhaps the only laughter during a tense hearing.

The U.S. Postal Service recently gave 40 states “heightened warnings” that by-mail ballots could arrive late this year, and might overwhelm its system. Among the exceptions were Utah and the other four states that have offered universal by-mail voting for years: Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii.

County clerks and the state earlier this month reported they are confident that by-mail voting will work well here this year because they do such things as let the Postal Service know when ballots are coming; use envelopes that are easy to identify that allow postal workers to give them priority; and county election employees pick up ballots at post offices to reduce return time.

Still, in response to questions from The Salt Lake Tribune earlier this month, the Postal Service in a written statement advised Utahns to send back ballots early and not wait until the last minute.

“The Postal Service recommends that domestic, nonmilitary voters mail their ballots at least one week prior to their state’s due date to allow for timely receipt by election officials,” the statement said.

The Legislature on Monday also tweaked rules for the Nov. 3 election. allowing counties to offer outdoor and in-person voting as well as drive-thru options, plus drop box and mail-in balloting for the Nov. 3 election.