Connie Cruz, a U.S. Postal Service letter carrier, checks addresses while delivering mail in West Salem on Thursday, Oct. 8. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

The Covid pandemic is still ongoing, hundreds of Oregonians have been displaced by wildfires and concerns have been raised about mail slowdowns before the election.

But Steve Trout, the state’s elections director who is now overseeing his ninth election in Oregon, said that this year’s election is, surprisingly, “business as usual.”

“We're not seeing any changes or differences,” said Trout, speaking at a press event in Salem on Thursday. “The timelines that we're working on are exactly the same as we did for the primary and exactly the same as we did in 2018 or 2012 or any previous election.”

Trout, along with officials from the U.S. Postal Service, gathered at the west Salem Post Office to declare that the mail service is functioning as it should and Oregon voters can be confident that their ballot will be delivered.

The U.S. Postal Service is facing a multi-billion-dollar deficit. In recent months, concerns have emerged over delivery delays just as more U.S. voters than ever before are expected to cast their votes via mail.

Bill Schwartz, the manager for the postal service district that includes all of Oregon and southern Washington, said that the number of ballots expected is a small volume of mail that can be easily processed.

He said that every day the district processes about seven or eight million pieces of mail. This election, he expects to process about 1.1 million to 1.3 million ballots from Oregon voters that will come in over an 18 to 21-day period, he said.

Schwartz said processing involves putting the mail through a machine that sorts them to the right address by using a barcode. From there, it’s passed along to the mail carriers who deliver it, he said.

“Even if we received them all in one day, we have the processing capability to process them using all of the equipment in 30 minutes,” he said. “Using half the equipment, one hour.”

Critics have accused President Donald Trump, a critic of mail-in voting, of deliberately undermining the postal service. Last month, postal workers rallied in Salem and elsewhere to push back against funding cuts and service delays.

Valerie Castillo, president of Branch 347 of the National Association of Letter Carriers, wasn’t present at the event. But she told the Salem Reporter that she agreed with the assessment given by Schwartz and that mail delivery in Oregon won’t be affected. But she said concerns about other parts of the country remain.

“The American people demanded Trump stop his sabotage of the Postal Service, and they won. Oregonians should vote in the way they feel most comfortable, whether by mail, or dropbox,” said U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon in an email.

Wyden recommended voters use the state’s My Vote website to make sure their ballot has been received.

Schwartz said that the pandemic has increased the number of parcels going through the district. But he said that calls for people to avoid using the mail in order to clear up capacity for ballots is a based on a “fallacy.” 

As each election season picks up, the U.S. Postal Service prepares staff for the increase in campaign mailers and voters’ pamphlets. Trout said that letter carriers are also directed to look out for undeliverable mail so that elections officials can be notified and reach out to the voter to notify them to update their address.

The postal service will not forward ballots along with other mails, which is a security feature of Oregon’s election system, said Trout.

Even with voters displaced by the fires, he said that his office is working to make sure that they get ballots at their temporary addresses. He said he gets daily updates from the postal service on which mailboxes and homes were destroyed by the fires, so that voters can be contacted.

Trout said his main concern is disinformation swirling that stems from lawsuits in other states trying to quickly adopt mail-in voting procedures in response to the pandemic. However, voting in Oregon remains the same. 

“That's good for the voters because what you've done in the past is what you can do this time, and you'll be fine,” he said.

He said that if voters have questions or concerns, they should visit oregonvotes.gov, call the secretary of state’s office or their local elections office.

Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.

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