815 mail-in ballots found in sweep of Texas USPS processing facilities

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — After a federal judge ordered another sweep of United States Postal Service facilities in Texas for Wednesday afternoon, 815 mail-in ballots were recovered, according to the Texas Tribune.

The additional sweep was to check for any outstanding mail-in ballots that could be eligible for counting. Any ballots postmarked on or before Election Day can be counted, if they are received by 5 p.m. the following day.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan first instructed USPS to conduct searches at 27 facilities in several battleground states by Tuesday afternoon. The agency said it could not complete the judge’s order under his timeframe but noted it had already conducted morning checks at processing hubs and planned another check before polling places closed on Tuesday.

Justice Department attorneys said it was “not possible” for Postal Inspectors to meet judge’s deadline at all the requested facilities in the order without disrupting the agency’s own Election Day operations.

Still, according to the Associated Press, USPS inspectors found 13 ballots as a result of their checks, all in Pennsylvania.

In a hearing on Wednesday, Sullivan said “someone might have a price to pay for that.” He followed his frustrated comments with an order for an additional sweep of mail processing facilities in Texas by that afternoon.

He noted that he was considering calling force USPS Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to show up in court and testify about how the agency handled the election.

A federal audit from earlier this year found thousands of unprocessed ballots at some facilities in Oklahoma, along with mail-in ballots and other political mail not delivered on time, following primary and special election races there.

An image of several mail-in ballots found on Election Day in an Oklahoma special election from a day earlier. According to the audit, officials immediately had them sent out to the election boards after they were made aware of the situation, ensuring they were received on time.

After the additional round of checks at Texas USPS facilities on Wednesday, the Texas Tribune reports 815 ballots were discovered and sent to Texas elections offices ahead of the deadline.

Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said they conducted their own additional check of local processing facilities on Election Day and were confident all eligible mail-in ballots will be received in time to be counted.

“I think the post office has done a stellar job trying to keep up with this volume given their compromised circumstances,” she said. “I don’t even think they are going to find any caches of ballots anywhere, but I appreciate them double checking.” 

Of the more than 607,000 total ballots cast in Travis County, 68,349 were sent in by-mail, according to data from the Clerk’s office. That’s more than 11% of ballots.

On Wednesday afternoon, DeBeauvoir said there were still several hundred mail-in ballots to count, but they did not believe there would be a large enough quantity to change any outcomes at this point.

In Williamson County, the Elections Administrator Chris Davis said their staff conducted three post office runs on Election Day and another run at 5 p.m. on Wednesday.

“We’re confident in our local USPS branch’s ability to have delivered all the mail ballots to us that are in their possession by deadline,” he said.

That’s where Vanessa Kjeldsen is registered to vote, but she is studying at a university in Illinois. She said it took more than two months for her mail-in ballot to arrive.

“There had been so much chaos and stress and work to even get my ballot here in the first place,” she said.

When it arrived the Friday before Election Day, she wasn’t taking any chances on ensuring it got back to Texas in time. Worried about the speed of the USPS deliveries, she opted to pay for an express carrier service.

“But not everybody in a global pandemic — an economic recession — can drop $11 to ship a piece of paper back home,” she recognized.

She waited for days, refreshing the Williamson County website to see if her ballot had been received.

“Refreshed it Saturday, Sunday, Monday… still had not received it. At that point, I was scrolling through Google Flights to see if it would even be possible to afford a flight home to vote,” she said.

On Election Day, her ballot status finally changed and reflected that her vote had been counted. Now, she hopes the same is true for others who sent their ballots by USPS.

“Everything should be done, so that every ballot can be counted,” Kjeldsen said. “Because every voice matters.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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