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Philadelphia Residents Worried About Postal Delays As Election Draws Near

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy testifies before Congress today. He is sure to be questioned about just how he is changing the U.S. Postal Service. DeJoy has already promised to suspend his plans until after the election but still faces concern about mail delays and mail-in ballots. That is especially the case in states where the vote may be close, such as Pennsylvania, where NPR's Jeff Brady is based.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Just about every summer for more than two decades, Nancy Rothwell and her family have rented a vacation house at the Jersey Shore. This was the first year she ran into a problem with the mail.

NANCY ROTHWELL: The realtor contacted me after about two weeks and said hey, where's your money? And I said, what are you talking about? I mailed it on July 3.

BRADY: Usually it takes just a few days for mail to travel 80 miles from Rothwell's Philadelphia suburb to the shore town. Fortunately, the check arrived but just barely in time.

ROTHWELL: Three weeks from Cheltenham Village to Ocean City, N.J., is, like, ridiculous.

BRADY: The Postal Service declined to comment for this story. It referred NPR to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy's announcement that cost-cutting measures will be suspended until after the election. DeJoy says the agency will be able to handle whatever volume of election mail it receives. But Postal Service unions are not convinced. John Gibson is president of the National Postal Mail Handlers Union Local 308, which covers Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He says giant mail sorting machines that have already been removed aren't coming back.

JOHN GIBSON: The Trenton facility took out six DBCS machines, which sorts mail. They're not being returned. They're just not going to proceed with removing the other three.

BRADY: The loss of those machines now is a concern, says Gibson, because they also sort mail-in ballots. Because of the pandemic, New Jersey is mailing ballots to everyone. And Gibson thinks not having these machines will slow down processing times.

GIBSON: The steps that have been taken initially by the postmaster general have led to the slowing of the mail deliveries, no doubt about it.

BRADY: Ohio is another politically important state this election. In at least one case there, postal workers say equipment they thought would just be unplugged and covered with a tarp was instead dismantled and stored outside, exposed to the elements, ensuring it can't be used again. On top of these changes, union official Gibson says the coronavirus pandemic also has slowed mail delivery. He says absenteeism among his members was up to 50% in spring. He says that's improving and has been cut in half. Still, even with changes suspended and workers coming back, some voters, like Yoomi Kwon near Philadelphia, are losing confidence that the Postal Service can ensure their vote will be counted in.

YOOMI KWON: And I want to get my mail-in ballot on time. If I mail my ballot, will it get there on time?

BRADY: Voting is important to Kwon. She's not a fan of President Trump, who won Pennsylvania four years ago by a narrow margin. With the coronavirus, she doesn't want to risk missing Election Day.

KWON: Like, if I get physically sick and I have to be hospitalized, I will not be able to go and vote.

BRADY: She signed up for a mail-in ballot but has decided it will be best to deliver it in person. Jeff Brady, NPR News, Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.