In August and September, NBC-owned TV stations across the nation undertook an unscientific experiment. They mailed hundreds of letters to each other in order to test the United States Postal Service.
The USPS strives to meet a one-to-three day delivery benchmark for First Class letters.
In the NBC test, about 88 percent of the letters were delivered in that timeframe. Expand the window to five business days and 98 percent of the mail made it. About 2 percent of the letters took longer.
So what does all this mean for your chances of casting a successful mail-in ballot?
If the NBC mail results are reflective of your local post office’s performance, it would mean getting your ballot in the mail by Tuesday, Oct. 27 will give you a 98 percent chance of delivery by Election Day.
To be sure, there are lots of variables the NBC test could not account for. For one, the USPS has variation in its on-time performance from region to region.
But our unscientific test roughly aligns with national numbers self-reported by USPS. According to performance data it submitted as part of a federal lawsuit, USPS calculated about 88.74 percent of its First-Class Mail was meeting its own on-time benchmark as of Sept. 5.
That marked an improvement from over the summer, when Post Master General Louis DeJoy was criticized for a mail slow-down related to organizational changes. Since then, courts have ordered USPS to reinstate extra mail trips and some mail processing machines. DeJoy has also pledged that handling election mail is his number one priority.
Postal Service spokesman David Partenheimer said the agency is prepared to handle the election.
“To put it in context, the Postal Service delivers 433 million pieces of mail in a day," Partenheimer said. "Even if all Americans were to vote by mail this year, 330 million ballots over the course of the election would be only three-quarters of what the Postal Services delivers in a single day.”
Even as the USPS assures the public it is ready to tackle loads of election mail, the agency’s on-time performance appears to have worsened since the beginning of September. On Oct. 3, the agency reported 86.15 percent of its First-Class Mail hit the three-day benchmark.
That’s more than 2 percent slower than a month prior, and it’s another reason giving postal workers a solid five business days to deliver your ballot is key.
One more reason Oct. 27 is an important date to remember?
The Postal Service website recommends nonmilitary voters located in the United States mail completed ballots “at least one week prior to your state’s deadline.”
Tuesday, Oct. 27 is exactly one week – and five business days – before Election Day.