WASHINGTON (CN) — The U.S. Postal Service is unable to track whether thousands of ballots ever reached election officials, including in swing states like Pennsylvania and North Carolina.
The admission followed concern from parties suing the Postal Service that around 300,000 mailed ballots could not be tracked, entering the mail stream with an origin scan but never receiving a destination scan.
The Postal Service executive overseeing 2020 election mail operations, Kevin Bray, told a federal judge on Wednesday that the figure was the result of postal workers removing ballots from the normal mail channels and manually expediting processing to ensure delivery by Election Day.
By taking these extraordinary steps, the agency is “making its numbers look bad,” Bray explained. He reassured the court that the majority of such ballots were delivered.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, who has been closely monitoring the government’s handling of mailed ballots for weeks, expressed confidence in the dedication of the Postal Service workforce.
“Nothing stops the postal system,” the Clinton appointee said in a hearing Thursday.
Over 100 pages of logs documenting “clean sweeps” by Postal Service inspectors in North Carolina and Pennsylvania submitted to the court on Thursday show that daily searches of facilities in the swing states turned up no loads of misplaced ballots after Election Day.
But thousands of ballots still remain unaccounted for, data compiled by the Postal Service Wednesday night shows.
A batch of those untraceable mail-in and absentee ballots are in Pennsylvania, a state that could be the final step to victory for former Vice President Joe Biden — and a necessary grab for President Donald Trump if he hopes to hold the White House.
In the USPS district of Central Pennsylvania, 1,524 total ballots were scanned entering the postal facility but did not receive a destination scan. Of those, the agency “has confidence” that 979 were delivered, while a remaining 545 would require further investigation to determine if they in fact reached election officials.
An attorney for the NAACP shared the data set in Thursday’s hearing. The Postal Service made a similar determination for the Philadelphia Metropolitan area, reporting confidence that 1,682 ballots that could not be tracked were delivered, with 814 needing further investigation.
The clock is ticking to deliver the ballots in the Keystone State, with a Friday deadline to count mail-in ballots postmarked by Nov. 3.
“We want to focus on getting as many ballots delivered by tomorrow as we can,” attorney Shankar Duraiswamy, representing the advocacy group Vote Forward, said Thursday.
The Postal Service data compiled Wednesday also provides insight into ballots processed in North Carolina, a swing state where election officials plan to continue counting votes through Nov. 12.
In Greensboro, 1,752 of the 3,087 ballots that cannot be tracked should have been delivered, the agency reported, while 1,335 need to be investigated. The Mid-Carolinas postal district, meanwhile, said that 1,200 of the 2,404 ballots that it did not track will require further investigation, while 1,204 should already be at their final destination.
Postal workers have been crawling under machines scouring facilities for ballots, Bray said, admitting that if he could go back in time he would have set up a system that allowed for ballots to be tracked to their destination on the expedited delivery routes.
But he remained confident that the “all clear” checks that Postal Service personnel are carrying out around the country will identify any misplaced ballots and deliver them in time to be counted.
“The clean sweeps that we’re doing and have been doing would identify what we’re capturing and delivering,” Bray said.
Asked why the Postal Service did not have a means of tracking the expedited ballots, Bray said he was focused on processing election mail and that such a plan would have been outside his purview.
Bray said that had there been discussions at the upper levels of the agency about such a mechanism, he was not aware, adding he has never once spoken with Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.
“That would not be normal,” Bray said. “I’m well below him in the chain of command.”
Sullivan plans to issue an order late Thursday for USPS managers to conduct morning and mid-to-late afternoon sweeps of election mail processing facilities on Friday to ensure that any identified ballots can be delivered by the end of the day.
The judge will direct the Postal Service to continue the daily searches and report the total number of ballots located beginning tomorrow and until further notice.