The mail is slowing down as the November election approaches, according to an unscientific survey by the NBC Owned Television Stations, Telemundo and NBCLX.
While letters mailed across town arrived on time, mail sent longer distances arrived days later than expected in the group’s third monthly test of the U.S. Postal Service.
Nearly a third of the 809 letters that reporters mailed two weeks ago arrived after the benchmarks set by the Postal Service – two business days for local mail, three business days for longer trips within the Lower 48 States. Most of the delays were for mail traveling longer distances.
Testing the Postal Service
See previous coverage from NBC's USPS tests
For local mail, the on-time delivery rate was 74 percent, compared with 79 percent in September and 83 percent in August. For long-distance mail, the on-time rate slipped to 54 percent in October, down from 82 percent in September and 77 percent in August.
Tens of millions of Americans are now casting mail-in ballots for next week’s presidential election. Despite criticism in Congress and elsewhere, the Postal Service says it can deliver the avalanche of ballots, provided voters obey the local deadlines.
Justin Glass, who heads the Postal Service’s elections unit, said it is using “extraordinary, extraordinary measures” to handle mail ballots.
“The Postal Service will not leave anything on the playing field when it comes to delivering the nation’s election,” Glass said in a conference call with reporters last week.
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said the agency is making good on its promise.
“The Postal Service has directed their local postmasters to build relationships with your county elections administrators,” LaRose said. “And we’re seeing that on the ground as county board of elections directors are exchanging phone numbers with the folks that run their local post office so they know who to get a hold of at 5 pm on a Saturday night when they’ve got an issue to work out.
“As long as you mail your ballot on time,” LaRose added, “you’re gonna be just fine.”
But internal Postal Service records as well as the NBC survey raise questions about the Postal Service’s performance.
This past summer, new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy launched an overhaul of the two-century-old agency. The result, according to records disclosed in a federal lawsuit, was a sharp, nationwide decline in the on-time delivery of mail.
From January through June, according to postal records filed in the lawsuit, First-Class mail typically arrived on time between 91 percent and 93 percent of the time, briefly reaching 94 percent.
In July, DeJoy abruptly made changes to reduce costs.
The impact on mail delivery was startling: On-time performance dropped immediately to 83 percent in mid-July, according to an NBC analysis of results from 67 postal districts. By early October on-time performance had climbed back to nearly 87 percent, still 6 percentage points below its peak in February.
The worst declines, all ranging from cuts of near 15 percent to 20 percent, were in Detroit, Washington, DC, Maryland, West Virginia and Mississippi. Only five districts, mostly in the Western U.S., saw improved delivery times from July to October, and in three of those districts the improvements rated less than a half percentage point.