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I-TEAM: Concerns rise about Postal Service as Election Day nears

Published: Oct. 1, 2020 at 6:27 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - We’re still a month away from Election Day, and it’s already one for the history books. More people than ever before will cast a ballot at home, and that means more ballots than ever before will arrive at polling places by mail.

How is it that a day that once seemed so far away, is almost here? Think of all the prepping and planning. The time, the work, and the money -- all of it leading up to one life-altering moment, with friends and family by their side.

“It’s such a big day. And it’s going to be special. It’s going to be special,” Kelly Vizzari said.

Wait. We’re not talking about Election Day. At least -- not yet.

“I just knew. This is it. Perfect husband material right there,” Brooke Vizzari said.

Thomas Stephenson and Brooke Vizzari were high school sweethearts, and his weekend, they will become husband and wife.

“We’ve been planning about for over a year. Yeah. Over a year,” Kelly said.

But this was never part of their plan. Wedding invitations soaked through and through.

“Soaked through and through,” Kelly Vizzari said. “Sickening. The only one you can read is the one that says Mr. and Mrs. Right here. That’s about it.”

The few wedding invitations that did make it to their final destination were damaged. And some are still missing.

But most of them ended up in a plastic bag in Brooke’s mailbox, with the Postal Service apologizing that they were “damaged by mechanical equipment.”

“We’re still crying. It just brings me to tears that something this," Kelly said.

Adding insult to injury was a single sticker indicating the invites were “received damaged” on Aug. 13, the day after Brooke mailed them. No one bothered to tell Brooke anything until she got them all back 19 days later.

“Three weeks! We could have had --,” Kelly started. “Yeah, more sent out,” Brooke said.

Which brings us back to something else super important and timely being sent out as we speak.

“And they want us to vote by mail? They’ve lost their mind,” Kelly said.

Even President Donald Trump is skeptical about mail-in voting.

The new head of the U.S. Postal Service had already been at the helm for more than two months.

In early May, the USPS Board of Governors, all selected by the president, announced Louis DeJoy’s appointment as postmaster general and CEO. The Republican has made a lot of changes: including the removal of mail-sorting machines, which sparked a heated exchange on Capitol Hill with Democratic Congressman Steven Lynch.

We have also uncovered letters Postal Service lawyers sent to both Georgia and South Carolina.

Both warn of a “risk that ballots requested near the deadline under state law will not be returned in time to be counted.”

But even before the pandemic, we found evidence of postal problems.

Take this audit, for example, of 25 postal delivery units sent to Congress. The Postal Service found “employees were not consistently following procedures at 21 of the 25 units.” Examples include “Packages that were scanned, and delivered to the addressee, but which were still at the unit."

Kelly doesn’t trust the Postal Service to deliver ballots.

We asked the agency for an interview, both about the invitations and the Vizzaris' concerns the same thing could happen to ballots.

A representative told us, “I will not be able to accommodate your interview request.”

But the Postal Service did send a few statements:

For the invitations, there was an apology “for any inconvenience” and that they’re “working with our customer to resolve her concern.”

For election concerns, a reminder for voters to get their ballots in as soon as possible, preferably “at least one week prior to their state’s due dates.”

The Richmond County Board of Elections hopes you’ll do it even sooner.

“I would say by around the middle of October. You know, give it time,” said Lynn Bailey, executive director of the board.

In the meantime, Bailey has tripled her staff size.

“The most absentee ballots we have ever issued by mail in any election in my career since 1993 is 6,500 for a presidential election,” Bailey said. “And we issued 30,000 for this little medium-size June primary, you know, and I think leading up to November, if the rate recall one, I wouldn’t be surprised if we issued 40-45,000 ballots by mail, so it is a, is a complete change in election culture.”

If you’re worried about the Postal Service, Bailey says you don’t have to mail your mail-in ballots. You can hand-deliver them at the Board of Elections. There’s even a no-contact option, where you can drop them in a special box.

“So, these boxes are outside they’re available 24/7, drive your car up there, jump out at the curb and go put your ballot in the dropbox,” Bailey said.

Bailey says they’re all monitored by cameras and other security measures. But she still hopes you’ll vote in-person. She says they’re taking every precaution to keep you safe, and because of that, it will take more time.

“If you choose to do that, that’s what we want you to do. But, you know, get your mind right before you go and just know that it’s not going to be as efficient as quick as it has been in other presidential elections where you cast your ballot,” she said.

And the Vizzaris don’t mind a longer wait, because they’ll know for sure their ballots won’t get lost or damaged in the mail.

“We’re going to work on this, OK? They need to fix their system so this doesn’t happen to anyone else,” Kelly said.

Because brides like Brooke aren’t the only ones counting on the Postal Service.

The deadline to register to vote in Georgia and South Carolina is Oct. 5.

If you change your mind to vote in person, just take your absentee ballot with you to the polls.

GEORGIA guide to voting in 2020 presidential election

SOUTH CAROLINA guide to voting in 2020 presidential election

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