The Williston Herald: North Dakota among states receiving postal warning — but the situation is not new, Congressman Armstrong says

August 18, 2020
In The News

Forty-six states got a letter from the United States Postal Service — North Dakota among them — warning that the agency cannot guarantee the delivery of all ballots on time for the November general election.

The warning was based on the election laws and timelines for the states — but the situation is not a new concern, Rep. Kelly Armstrong said.

The Congressman sits on the Committee for Government Oversight and Reform, which, among other areas, has jurisdiction over the post office.

“We all knew this was going to be an issue long before this,” Armstrong said. “My friends on the other side of the aisle screaming about this are either being disingenuous or are not paying attention.”

States, including North Dakota, received a similar letter in May warning of the same issue, something that North Dakota Election Director Bryan Newby confirmed.

He told the Williston Herald the letter still outlined a two to five-day turnaround, which is not different than it’s been in year’s past.

“I think what is new is the idea that they sent this letter,” Newby said. “And then the fact that you could talk about gravity right now, and it would become a political topic.”

Newby said North Dakota won’t be changing anything in its procedures.

Under those, county auditors are to point out difficulties with the timeline as the election date nears, so that people know they may need to bring their ballot into the office personally or use a drop box, rather than rely on the mail.

“We also encourage voters that if they requested a ballot and it has been a couple of weeks but they haven’t received it to contact (their county auditor) and request a replacement,” Newby said.

Voter education campaigns will start soon, Newby added, to ensure North Dakotans are aware of their options, and know what to do.

“Either way, now is a good time to update your information with the Department of Transportation,” he suggested, to ensure that the county election officials will be able to provide the correct ballot to you in a timely fashion.

Ballots in North Dakota must be postmarked by the day before the election. That means anyone who is waiting until the last minute to drop their ballot in a mail box should probably take the ballot inside to have it hand cancelled.

If it is dropped in the box the day before and has the correct postmark, it will be counted, as long as it is received on the Monday following the general election, which is within the postal service’s stated two to five-day turnaround.

Armstrong, meanwhile, said he is frustrated by the politics in Washington D.C.

“It really makes me angry that this is being hijacked along partisan lines,” he said. “The reality is, it shouldn’t be.”

Armstrong added that he was the only Republican on the Oversight committee to sponsor legislation that would have lifted the requirement to pre-fund pensions for 70 years in advance, which would have helped the postal service with cash flow.

“They are the only organization required to prefund their pensions,” he said. “There’s an argument that we should require all of them to prefund, but I don’t know why the postal service is singled out as the only organization to do that. I don’t know how that became a thing.”

Armstrong said if an emergency session is called to discuss postal issues, he will continue to advocate as he always has for serious postal reform to deliver mail to rural North Dakotans for the long-term.

“If there is a shot-term bailout that makes sense to help them through this election cycle, I would probably support that,” he said. “But I’m really frustrated that we are voting on a bill on Saturday when we could have been having committee meetings all along to figure this out.”

On the Senate side, Sen. John Hoeven said the Senate is on standby in case there is an agreement between House Democrats and the White House.

“If they pass a bill, we may very well go back and work on it,” he said. “That was something we talked about today. Essentially we are on standby.”

Hoeven is a cosponsor on the USPS fairness act, introduced this Congressional session by Senator Steve Daines, R-Montana, and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, which, similar to the bill advanced by Armstrong in the House, would have addressed the 2006 law requiring the postal service to pre-fund pensions.

“That would make their funding situation much better,” Hoeven said. “That takes a lot of their working capital to fund that on an accelerated basis, so that bill would help with that.”

Hoeven said he, too, would be willing to consider emergency funding, but that he would need to know exactly how it would be used.

The postal service has $15 billion cash on hand right now, Hoeven said, and was given a $10 billion loan under the CARES Act.

Hoeven said he had spoken with Secretary Treasurer Mnuchin Monday and was assured that everything has been sorted out so that the postal service can draw on those funds if needed.

“Also, I think in the back and forth between the White House, Department of Treasury, and Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi, they have talked about turning that $10 billion loan into a grant,” Hoeven added. “That hasn’t happened yet, because they haven’t reached an agreement, but I know that has been something that’s being discussed.”