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Eagle County Clerk O’Brien says Postal Service assures her changes won’t impact election mail

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August 16, 2020, 6:12 pm

Fears that Trump administration changes at the U.S. Postal Service will slow if not outright thwart the return of ballots by Election Day on Tuesday, Nov. 3, prompted the U.S. House to return early from recess to address the situation and hold postal officials accountable.

Regina O’Brien

In Eagle County, Clerk and Recorder Regina O’Brien told RealVail.com on Sunday that the USPS assures her office those changes to operational plans won’t impact election mail.

“The USPS has communicated assurances to Colorado county clerks that the budget situation and operational plans will not impact election mail,” O’Brien emailed RealVail.com (see below for more of her advice on making sure your vote counts). “We meet weekly with the USPS to share information and communicate any issues or impacts, and we communicate directly with our local USPS postmasters frequently to ensure ballots are flowing and to immediately address any issues.”

Democrats in the House passed a bill in May with an additional $25 billion to the USPS to expand mail-in voting during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but the Republican-controlled Senate went on recess without passing any economic relief bill. President Donald Trump falsely claims mail-in elections like Colorado’s are rife with fraud while simultaneously admitting that making it easier to vote for all Americans would be bad for the Republican Party.

When House members return from recess this week they’ll consider emergency legislation to stop Trump donor and U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy from continuing to slash overtime pay for postal workers, remove mail-sorting machines and make other moves to slow mail delivery, which have also impacted prescription drug deliveries for seniors and veterans.

The USPS has warned 46 states and the District of Columbia that voters could be disenfranchised by the policy changes and budget cutting and that not all ballots may be counted by federal deadlines due to delays in delivery.

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, issued the following statement on Monday (see full press release below): “President Trump has used a major public health crisis not to unite the country, but to continue his relentless attacks on our democracy. For months, he’s made one false claim after another about mail-in voting, something we helped pioneer in Colorado. Now, he’s publicly admitted to blocking funding for the Postal Service to suppress the vote. The discussion about vote-by-mail and the Postal Service should have nothing to do with politics. It should be about how we’re going to look to states like Colorado as an example for how to expand vote-by-mail across the country so that every American can exercise their right to vote safely.”

Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican from rural Colorado, on Monday repeatedly refused  to directly answer questions from the press on the administration’s attempts to slow down USPS delivery, prompting this statement from his Democratic challenger, former Gov. John Hickenlooper:

“Today, we saw yet another example of cowardly silence from Sen. Cory Gardner when he refused to speak out against President Trump’s attacks on the USPS,” Hickenlooper said in an email. “Sen. Gardner was elected by vote by mail, and he knows Trump’s lies are dangerous. His silence shows a blatant disregard for those who rely on the post office for prescription drugs, to sell their products, or rural Coloradans who can’t always get deliveries from private carriers. Colorado deserves better.”

Groups organizing using the website SaveThePostOffice.net are planning a nationwide mobilization at 11 a.m. local time on Saturday, Aug. 22 “to defend the essential services provided by the United States Postal Service, including our ability to vote by mail” and to “push back on the Trump administration’s attacks by organizing grassroots actions at post offices across the country.”

Participating groups so far include Indivisible, the Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights, MoveOn, NAACP, RuralOrganizing.org, Service Employees International Union and the Working Families Party.

Asked if her office is moving up mailing deadlines due to slower delivery, Eagle County Clerk O’Brien said those deadlines are dictated by law. Here are the key dates:

  • Saturday, Sept. 19 – Ballots sent to military and overseas voters (federal law dictates this date)
  • Friday, Oct. 9 – Ballots mailed to all active, registered voters (Colorado law determines the first day we may mail ballots)
  • Friday, Oct. 9 – 24-hour ballot drop boxes are opened, located in:
    • Avon
    • Edwards
    • Eagle
    • El Jebel
    • Basalt
    • Voters can return ballots in ANY Colorado county clerk ballot box as long as it’s returned by 7 p.m. on Nov. 3.  
  • Monday, Oct. 19 – Voter Service Centers open in Eagle, Avon, and El Jebel
    • *NOTE* – We have moved our vote center location in Avon to the Town of Avon Municipal building (the larger space will help better accommodate social distancing, and this location is not far from the clerk’s office in Avon where voters have been coming for years).
    • Monday, Oct. 19 – Friday, Oct. 23; 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
    • Monday, Oct. 26 – Friday, Oct. 30; 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
    • Saturday, Oct. 31; 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
    • Monday, Nov. 2; 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
    • Tuesday, Nov. 3; 7 a.m. – 7 p.m.
    • Vail Vote Center opens on Friday, Oct. 30 and follows the same times as above on 10/30, 10/31, 11/2, and 11/3 (location is the Grand View Room atop the Lionshead Parking Structure)
  • Monday, Oct. 26 – Last day clerk’s can mail ballots; after this date, voters must come to a vote center to pick up a ballot.

Asked how confident Eagle County voters should be in the current mail-in system despite disruptions at the USPS, O’Brien offered this advice:

“We are working so hard to prepare for this election and to make as many services as possible available to voters,” O’Brien said. “The Colorado model of sending ballots early, operating full-service vote centers for two weeks prior to the election, providing staffed and 24-hour ballot drop boxes, and working closely with our county and state election partners all combine to provide choice and safeguards for voter access.” She went on to offer these tips:

  • Ballot drop boxes are a great way to ensure swift return of ballots. As mentioned above, boxes are opened weeks before the Election Day (open Oct. 9). When voters are ready to drop-off their voted ballot, these boxes are open.
  • Ballot boxes are also available inside all staffed Voter Service Centers starting Oct. 19
  • The Edwards 24-hour drop box was added in anticipation of 2020; there are five total in Eagle County and hundreds across the state.
  • Ballots may be returned to ANY Colorado county clerk-controlled ballot drop box by 7 p.m. on Election Night, Tuesday, Nov. 3.
    • For example, if you are a student living in Boulder, your ballot should be mailed to your best mailing address in Boulder, and the ballot can be returned in a Boulder County Clerk drop box by 7 p.m. on election night. Boulder County will deliver that ballot to Eagle County. All 64 counties work together to make this happen.
  •  If voters wish to return via mail, mail the ballot no later than 8 days prior to Election Day, Monday, Oct. 26. We strongly encourage voters to use a drop box after Monday, Oct. 26
  • The USPS has communicated assurances to Colorado county clerks that the budget situation and operational plans will not impact election mail.  
  • We meet weekly with the USPS to share information and communicate any issues or impacts, and we communicate directly with our local USPS postmasters frequently to ensure ballots are flowing and to immediately address any issues. We have been doing this for years and will continue to be very vigilant working with our USPS partners.
  • Colorado county clerks use all tools and methods to prioritize efficient ballot delivery — Election Mail indicia and logo, first-class postage for mailings closer to Election Day, Tag 181s for USPS processing visibility, and ballot tracking for voters.

Asked what voters can do now to make sure their ballot counts, O’Brien offered this advice:

Here’s what Eagle County voters can and should do now to efficiently receive their ballots in October:

  • Check their voter registration and update their residential and mailing addresses. Don’t delay. By law, ballots are not forwardable, so it’s critical that the mailing address in your voter record is current. Go to www.GoVoteColorado.gov.
    • This is particularly important for our voters who move frequently, military and overseas voters, younger voters/college students with new addresses due to COVID-19/remote learning, or voters who have moved due to employment displacement  
  • If you do not receive your ballot by Monday, Oct. 19, visit a Voter Service Center to pick up a ballot in person. There is no need to wait until Election Day to receive your ballot if you need to come in person.
  • Voters can register to vote up to and including Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3. To encourage social distancing and reduce the spread of COVID-19, we encourage voters to visit a Voter Service Center prior to Election Day as, on that day, lines tend to be the longest. Prior to Election Day, voters can usually walk right up to a judge for assistance without waiting.
  • If voters have any questions or cannot find their voter information online, please contact our office at elections@eaglecounty.us or call 970-328-8715.

Here’s Monday’s full press release from key Colorado Democrats:

Today, ColoradoU.S. Senator Michael Bennet, Governor Jared Polis, Secretary of State Jena Griswold, Attorney General Phil Weiser, and Denver Clerk and Recorder Paul D. López confronted President Donald Trump’s baseless attacks on vote-by-mail and the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) and pointed to Colorado’s success as a national model. As Trump and his administration withhold funding for USPS to undermine mail-in voting and the 2020 elections, the officials were united in their call to depoliticize voting-by-mail and ensure every Coloradan and American can vote safely this fall.

“President Trump has used a major public health crisis not to unite the country, but to continue his relentless attacks on our democracy. For months, he’s made one false claim after another about mail-in voting, something we helped pioneer in Colorado. Now, he’s publicly admitted to blocking funding for the Postal Service to suppress the vote,” said Bennet. “The discussion about vote-by-mail and the Postal Service should have nothing to do with politics. It should be about how we’re going to look to states like Colorado as an example for how to expand vote-by-mail across the country so that every American can exercise their right to vote safely.”

“Coloradans have known for years that voting by mail is a safe, easy, and secure way to make our voices heard. The pandemic has posed many unique challenges, but it remains critical that Coloradans are able to exercise our constitutional right to vote without risking our health. Colorado has become a model for the rest of the country and I hope to see even more states adopt mail in voting to reduce fraud and provide greater convenience for eligible voters,” said Polis.

“President Trump’s attack of the U.S. Postal Service to undermine vote by mail is deeply concerning. I’m proud to stand with Senator Bennet, Governor Polis, Attorney General Weiser, and Clerk Lopez today in condemning the President’s actions,” said Griswold. “I will not sit idly by as voter suppression grips the nation, and will consider every option available to fight President Trump and Postmaster General DeJoy’s attempts to suppress Americans of their vote.”

“Colorado is committed to protecting the right to vote for its residents and exercising our constitutional obligation to manage the presidential and congressional elections,” said Weiser. “As Attorney General, I will continue working with other states and officials here in Colorado to explore the best avenues to protect the right to vote and to manage effectively our reliable, safe, and easy-to-use vote at home election system.”

“Mail ballots are not a partisan issue, but as the Clerk and Recorder of the county that has gained national recognition for innovation and removing barriers to the ballot box, I can’t in good conscience let the misinformation about mail ballots go unchallenged,” said López. “We stand by our safe and secure mail ballot system and will fight to defend the integrity of our process.”

Colorado is a national leader in vote-by-mail, voter turnout, and election security. This June, Colorado set a record for the highest-ever turnout for a non-presidential primary, with over 99 percent of votes cast using mail-in ballots. According to a Pew Charitable Trust report, Colorado’s election costs decreased 40 percent when it switched to all mail ballots. In 2018, former Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen praised Colorado as a national leader in safeguarding elections.

And here’s a press release issued Monday by U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, whose Colorado 2nd Congressional District includes Vail:

Today, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced that the U.S. House of Representatives will return to Washington for an emergency session this Saturday, August 22nd to pass legislation to fund the U.S. Postal Service and prevent dangerous operational changes that may threaten the November elections. Included in the measures to be voted on this weekend is $25 billion in emergency supplemental appropriations for the U.S. Postal Service, similar to Congressman Neguse’s funding proposal which he introduced in March. 

“Coloradans are relying on delivery services provided by the Postal Service for medications, paychecks, social security payments, ballots and many other essential items. They are depending on timely and efficient mail delivery now more than ever as our nation faces the once-in-century health and economic crisis of COVID-19,” said Congressman Joe Neguse. “The President’s blatant sabotage of USPS by withholding needed funds and approving operational changes that are eroding the effectiveness of USPS is a threat to lives, livelihoods and our American democracy, and we will not stand for it. On Saturday, Congress will return to Washington for an emergency session to pass $25 billion in much-needed funds for USPS and prevent continued operational changes that harm Americans and the post office.” 

The Protect Our Post Offices Act, which Congressman Neguse introduced in March, provides $25 billion for USPS, and has the support of nearly 100 lawmakers. On Saturday, the House plans to vote on the $25 billion funding proposal for USPS and to prohibit the Postal Service from implementing any changes to the operations or level of service it had in place on January 1, 2020, until the COVID-19 pandemic has ended. In addition to Saturday’s votes, the U.S. Postmaster General has been called to appear before Congress next week for an oversight hearing. 

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David O. Williams

Managing Editor at RealVail
David O. Williams is an award-winning freelance reporter based in the Vail Valley of Colorado, writing on health care, immigration, politics, the environment, energy, public lands, outdoor recreation and sports. His work has appeared in 5280 Magazine, American Way Magazine (American Airlines), the Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), Aspen Daily News, Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Times, Beaver Creek Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, the Colorado Independent (formerly Colorado Confidential), Colorado Politics (formerly the Colorado Statesman), Colorado Public News, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado Springs Independent, the Colorado Statesman (now Colorado Politics), the Colorado Times Recorder, the Daily Trail (Vail), the Denver Daily News, the Denver Post, the Durango Herald, the Eagle Valley Enterprise, the Eastside Journal (Bellevue, Washington), ESPN.com, the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, the Greeley Tribune, the Huffington Post, the King County Journal (Seattle, Washington), KUNC.org (northern Colorado), LA Weekly, the London Daily Mirror, the Montgomery Journal (Maryland), The New York Times, the Parent’s Handbook, Peaks Magazine (now Epic Life), People Magazine, Powder Magazine, the Pueblo Chieftain, PT Magazine, Rocky Mountain Golf Magazine, the Rocky Mountain News, Atlantic Media's RouteFifty.com (formerly Government Executive State and Local), SKI Magazine, Ski Area Management, SKIING Magazine, the Summit Daily News, United Hemispheres (United Airlines), Vail/Beaver Creek Magazine, Vail en Español, Vail Valley Magazine, the Vail Daily, the Vail Trail and Westword (Denver). Williams is also the founder, publisher and editor of RealVail.com and RockyMountainPost.com.

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