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Postal workers worried about changes as election approaches

Green Bay's Packerland Drive Post Office. August 20, 2020. (WLUK/Don Steffens){p}{/p}
Green Bay's Packerland Drive Post Office. August 20, 2020. (WLUK/Don Steffens)

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(WLUK) -- You rely on the Postal Service to deliver your mail on time. But recently, concerns have arisen about if the agency is still capable of timely delivery.

In June, Louis DeJoy was named the Postal Service’s new postmaster general.

Election Commission records show he has donated millions of dollars to the Republican Party, including the Trump campaign.

DeJoy issued changes nationwide that include cutting overtime, removing collection boxes, and removing letter sorting machines. After pressure from Congress and states, he paused the changes Tuesday.

DeJoy claims these changes are cost-cutting measures.

But some Democratic politicians allege DeJoy is taking sorting machines offline nationwide to jeopardize absentee voting.

"There has been 671 delivery barcode sorting machines, these are the machines that sort your letters to the carriers every day, have been disconnected. Taken offline, and the power undone," Kelly Heaney, Green Bay area postal workers union president, told FOX 11.

We wanted to talk to the Postal Service about changes DeJoy is allegedly making, but a representative declined to do an interview.

Heaney works at the Green Bay Post Office on Packerland Drive.

He says a few weeks ago, the facility was operating with 10 letter sorting machines.

But now, Heaney says two machines have been disconnected because of DeJoy’s order.

It’s not just Green Bay.

Milwaukee’s Union President Paul McKenna tells FOX 11 Milwaukee has lost three machines, and an additional four are scheduled to be removed.

Heaney says the removals are causing small delays in mail delivery, but his biggest concern is a few months away.

"My fear is come election time, the dedicated postal workers will not be able to get the mail processed in a timely manner for the ballots to count," Heaney said.

On Tuesday after several states filed lawsuits, including Wisconsin, DeJoy said:

To avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail, I am suspending these initiatives until after the election is concluded.

We spoke to Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul.

"It’s certainly a good thing he seems to have acknowledged that he shouldn’t go forward with these changes. But we also need to reverse the changes that have already been made, and ensure that there will be no further changes," Kaul said.

Despite DeJoy suspending initiatives, Heaney says as of Thursday, the two machines are still out of commission.

"I am the one that puts the machines together and fixes them. I have not been told, even though I wanted to start putting them together yesterday, to get the green light to go ahead and re-assemble them," Heaney said.

When a Senator asked DeJoy during his testimony Friday if he planned to put the machines back in service, he replied “There’s no intention to do that. They’re not needed.”

"Every person who’s a registered voter should have the right to have their vote counted, and be confident they can be processed and delivered," Heaney said.

Let’s go back to April’s election.

Nearly 750 Appleton voters received unmarked ballots after the election, and an unknown number of Oshkosh voters say their unmarked absentee ballots never arrived at their address.

An investigation by the USPS Inspector General’s Office showed the Appleton ballots were found in tubs at Milwaukee’s processing facility.

It concluded the Appleton ballots were given to the Postal Service on election day, which wasn’t enough time to mail them out.

To this day, the Postal Service could not determine what happened to the Oshkosh ballots.

We spoke to Oshkosh City Manager Mark Rohloff in May.

"We think that we, ourselves, are missing about 3,000 ballots, based on all the statistics that we gathered about how many ballots we mailed out," Rohloff said.

FOX 11 decided to put the Postal Service to the test.

We took 100 envelopes that were 5 by 11.5 inches in size (which is standard for Wisconsin absentee ballots).

Sealed them, labeled them and stamped them.

One difference we should point out -- election mail carries an official seal and different postage than our test envelopes.

In November, official ballots will also have intelligent mail barcodes for tracking.

We mailed the 100 test envelopes to see how long it would take for them to arrive at their destination.

In total, we mailed 50 ballots from various collection boxes in Appleton to an Appleton P.O. box.

We mailed another 50 from various locations across Oshkosh to an Oshkosh P.O. box.

Three days after the ballots were mailed out, all 50 Appleton ballots made it back to the P.O. box.

Within the same three days, all 50 Oshkosh ballots made it back.

Our results showed a 100% return rate, but it could be different during an election like we saw with Fox Valley voters in April.

That’s why the Wisconsin Elections Commission will be using intelligent mail barcodes.

"Those people had already requested an absentee ballot, and it just didn’t get there. But having the intelligent mail barcodes would help them to be able to go on the website and see when it was supposed to be there and why it wasn’t there," Reid Magney, a WEC representative, said.

When it comes down to voting absentee in Wisconsin, a political advocate says it’s all about timing.

"Apply early. Don’t wait until the last week of October to vote on Nov. 3. That way you’ll have plenty of time to receive your absentee ballot in the mail, and you’ll have plenty of time to get it back in time," Common Cause Wisconsin Executive Director Jay Heck said.

As for the postal workers...

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"Let us do our jobs. We are very dedicated postal workers. We love delivering the mail to the public," Heaney said.

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