The proposed restructuring of the U.S. Postal Service may have little immediate effect on Spokane, but for many other communities the changes could be significant.
And, potentially, for many tens of thousands of Washington voters.
Among the major proposed changes are the closures of mail processing centers in Pasco, Yakima, Wenatchee and Tacoma, leaving just Spokane and Seattle to handle almost all the letters and packages mailed each day in Washington and the Idaho Panhandle. If the proposed closure of the Pocatello center is approved, Idaho’s only remaining center would be in Boise.
The consolidations could be completed by next summer.
Although about 150 jobs would be eliminated in the three Washington centers to be closed, some workers would be absorbed into other positions. But the disruption to individuals and businesses that depend on mail service will be much more harmful.
Efforts to stabilize small communities by promoting e-commerce will be offset by delays getting goods to customers. Turnaround times on even local first-class mail would be extended to two or three days from one.
Remember, too, that at least 41 Washington post offices – including a few in Spokane County – could be sacrificed as the Postal Service tries to reduce costs $20 billion by 2015.
Washington and Oregon, the only states with 100 percent mail-in balloting, will be especially challenged by the processing center closures.
In Oregon, ballots count as long as they are in the hands of county officials by 8 p.m. on Election Day. Washington ballots need only be postmarked by midnight that day. So when and where will ballots mailed from, say, Naches, in the Yakima Valley, be postmarked?
There can be no presumption that ballots picked up at the home will be postmarked that day. Nor can it be presumed mailbox pick-up times will be advanced to assure ballots get to Spokane by midnight. Voters in rural areas may have to get their votes in the mail a day early, or take the risk they will not be counted.
Federal and state officials will discuss the postmark issue at a meeting next week. With absentee voting more and more prevalent, most states have a stake in how the problem is handled.
The Washington secretary of state’s office and county officials are considering more widespread use of drop boxes like those available in Spokane, but that solution probably will not work well in rural areas.
An answer must be found quickly. If the center closures do indeed go forward next summer, there will be little time to adopt a new game plan for the general election in November.
Incidentally, tampering with ballots in a drop box is only a gross misdemeanor under Washington law. Tampering with first-class mail, such as ballots, is a federal felony. If the state is going to rely more on drop boxes, perhaps the charges for tampering should be upgraded.
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