The Mail-in Mission Pt. 2: How mailing out of state will impact your ballot’s arrival

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — The U.S. Postal Service estimates it’s a 2-3 day trip on average to get first-class mail to its destination. Does that mean if you’re out on the highways and byways and you send in an absentee-sized ballot, it’s looking at a 2-3 day trip to Greene County?

As David and Heather showed us Thursday, local ballots mailed from within Greene County arrived at our local KOLR10 P.O. box within 1-2 mail days.

But people who have to travel out of state, perhaps for work or take care of family affected by COVID-19, need to know how long mail takes to get here.

As you see, inbound, first-class mail to Springfield is advertised as of July 1 to take 2-3 mail days to arrive, excluding Sundays.

That sounds good, and there are still 40 days to get your ballot to Greene County. But, as Senator Roy Blunt says, some may be torn about voting early.

“Voters have a quandary here. One is that you’d like to see as much of the campaign develop as possible, but two is that you want to be sure if you’re not going to go to the polling place and vote that you vote in a way that your ballot in all likelihood gets there-in our state it has to be there by the end of the day on election day,” says Sen. Blunt.

So, if you want to wait till after some of the presidential debates to send in your absentee ballot, how much time are we talking about?

To find out, Brian mailed envelopes the exact size and weight of a Greene County ballot using first-class postage on a two-day road trip starting September 9th in Dry Ridge, Kentucky, and ending the 10th in Pacific, Missouri.

In all, Brian made 14 stops at post offices in towns as small as 250 persons and major metros like Louisville, Cincinnati, and St. Louis.

What was the result?

First, the good news: Mail from in-state took three mail days to get to our Springfield P.O. box.

Though that’s more than the postal service advertises, it’s still within the wider time bound for mail sent within the continental U.S. and beats the new postal service mailers advising people to give ballots at least seven days to make it by November 3rd.

Now, the bad news: The average mail speed outside Missouri was five days. Even worse, the longest mailer took nine mail days to arrive. That envelope, from Walton, Ky, is an outlier. But if it’s your absentee ballot, and you wait until late October to mail it, you might not have your vote counted.

So what’s going on with all these the mail speeds? Brian asked Angelo Anagnostopoulos, an analyst for the marketing firm Grayhair, which tracks postal delivery times.

“A lot of first-class mail will travel on air transportation, but because of the unprecedented decline in air availability, a lot of that has to travel ground. You might be sending across town or across a few states and stuff, and it could take 10-12 days to deliver. In the example you cited, what probably happened was is that there was an outage where employees were out,” says Anagnostopoulos.

This general lag in first-class delivery time is seen here, with the light blue bars representing first-class mail. Grayhair’s analysis shows that our five-day mail average is in line with what it’s tracking across the entire mail system.

The Postal Service says seven, but we think up to nine mail days to get your ballot to Greene County is the way to go, which is exactly what the Greene County Clerk’s Office also recommends.

In this time of COVID-related disruptions, making your ballot count this November means realizing that your first-class election mail may be traveling coach.

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