Processing Center Percentages are “Not” On Time Delivery Percentages

Steve Hutkins of Save the Post Office has been live blogging and providing updates to the 12 federal district court cases filed. In the November 6, 2020 Update Steve discusses the delivery updates being filed in court and which are being used by some news outlets to show the USPS has been delivering ballots late and not on Election Day. Steve cautions against the use of this data as actual delivery dates are different than processing dates.

November 6, 2020 Update

The Postal Service’s daily reports on service performance, election mail, and late/extra trips (submitted as part of the Joint Order from the courts in RichardsonVote Forward, and NAACP) can be found here.

Steve Hutkins: One note about these daily reports on election mail. Some news reports are looking at these reports and misinterpreting the data and saying things like this:

“The data based on scans of ballot envelopes that were filed in Sullivan’s court Wednesday suggested that in South Florida, just 85.12% of the mail-in-ballots were delivered on Election Day and in central Pennsylvania, just 61.3% of the mail-ballots in the postal system were delivered on time both of which were based on the scan data in the court filing shown. In Philadelphia, slightly more than 66% of the mail-in ballots had been delivered on Election Day. In Atlanta 82.2% percent of the mail-in ballots were delivered on Election Day, the court filing shows.”

The daily numbers being reported do not indicate how much of the mail was delivered on time, i.e., within the service standard of two or three days. These numbers are  processing  scores, i.e., the percent of the ballots that went through the processing network on time. They do not encompass;

the “first mile” (the step between a voter dropping a ballot in the mail and its arrival at a processing center) or the “last mile” (from post office to letter carrier to destination).

The processing scores therefore do not represent the percentage that was delivered on time. It’s possible that some of the mail that was “late” going through the processing system did get delivered on time thanks to the extraordinary measures the Postal Service used to expedite ballot mail. It’s also important to recognize that even the processing scores are not entirely reliable for various reasons, including the fact that some ballots didn’t get an exit scan in the processing system because they went through an expedited process to the election center destination.

The Washington Post has been careful about how it explains the numbers and makes it clear that the numbers are processing scores. For example, one recent article put it this way:

“Nearly 7 percent of ballots in U.S. Postal Service sorting facilities on Tuesday were not processed on time for submission to election officials, according to data the agency filed Wednesday in federal court, potentially leaving tens of thousands of ballots caught in the mail system during an especially tight presidential race. The Postal Service reported the timely processing — which includes most mail-handling steps outside of pickup and delivery — of 93.3 percent of ballots on Election Day, its best processing score in several days, but still well below the 97-percent target that postal and voting experts say the agency should hit.”

The Postal Service has been posting weekly reports that do show on time delivery performance, but these reports come out a couple of weeks later. You can find these reports here. The report for the week of Oct. 24 will be added tomorrow. It will take a couple more weeks before we see the service performance numbers for election week.