The U.S. Postal Service will not guarantee the delivery of political mailings unless they are dropped at the post office at least seven to ten days before Election Day, putting the future of last-minute political mailings in jeopardy.
That declaration came after local candidates in Linden, New Jersey complained that the Postal Service couldn’t traverse the 16 miles between their facility in Kearny and the local Post Office in under five days, with hundreds of mailers never making it to voters.
In the 2019 Linden school board race, a candidate who lost by just 243 votes filed a complaint alleging that about 570 of her direct mail pieces were returned to her doorstep three weeks later.
“We discovered that the mail was inducted into the mail stream on October 31, 2019, which was after the recommended entry date of October 24, 2019,” said Postal Service manager Kathi C. Roy in a letter obtained by the New Jersey Globe through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Roy said that while an investigation revealed that some of the Linden mail arrived at the local post office after the November 5 election, most of the of the 3,800-piece mailing did make it on time. She acknowledged that the Kearny facility released the mail the day it was dropped.
“It’s almost as if four carrier route sacks of mail were either misplaces or carriers were not given their routes to be delivered,” said Evelio Velez, the president of Full Service Mailers, Inc., a Hackensack-based mail fulfillment center used by the Linden candidates.
Last minute mailers, which are red-tagged for expedient delivery, are far from uncommon in such races, according to Velez.
“Based on my experience, most campaigns continue to drop red tag political mail as late as the Thursday or Friday before a Tuesday election,” Velez said in a letter to one of the candidates, Sherylann Tambornino. “I suspect if the Postal Service reviewed their records even casually, they would find a huge quantity of red tag political mail that is dropped after their suggested guidelines.”
Roy said that when political mail arrives after the election, “it is our protocol to hold on to the mail and notify the mailer so that we can receive mail disposition instructions on how to proceed.”
She said that the supervisor at the Linden Post Office unsuccessfully attempted to contact the campaign “via carrier notification.”
Velez says he wants to see proof of the Postal Service investigation.
“At no time did the Linden Post Office contact Full Service Mailers for disposition instructions,” he said.
Last month, a spokesperson for the U.S. Postal Service told the Globe that an action plan for local postal operations would be issued in response to the Linden issue.
The Globe sought to obtain a copy of that plan as part of the document request, but postal officials were unable to locate it.
Mailers are a staple of local campaigns, where funds are almost always too thin to spring for television or radio advertisements.
The incident is unlikely to signal the death knell of under-the-wire mailers, though it will likely create some headaches for operatives working in that arena.
“It gives me pause, because now when I’m sitting in these campaign meetings and we’re talking about our timetables, we’re talking about our plans, in the back of my mind, I’m like, ‘How do I make sure this actually happens?’” a political mail consultant told the New Jersey Globe. “I got to do a little bit more time. I’ve got to do a little bit more hand holding.”
Micah Rasmussen, the director of the Rebovich Institute of Politics at Rider University, says he’s been on both sides of the postal counter.
As a college student, he spent three summers working at the Vineland Post Office. Later, as a political operative, Rasmussen dropped off multiple waves of mail to the same post office.
“There’s a special red tag that goes on a mail bag with political mail in it and the red tag was always taken seriously,” Rasmussen said. “I’m sure that priority was based on the idea that political speech is among the most important of all free speech, and the most important to protect.”
As a small consolation for their defeat, Tambornino and her running mates got an apology from the post office.
“I realize an apology is no substitute for good, service, but I want to offer one on behalf of the Postal Service,” Roy told the candidate. “You can have complete confidence that in the U.S. Postal Service that we will make every effort to meet your delivery expectations.”