Election

She's Got Mail: Amber McReynolds Is Ready to Stamp Out Voting-Fraud Rumors

Amber McReynolds has gone national with plans to modernize voting.
Amber McReynolds has gone national with plans to modernize voting. Evan Semon
With conspiracy theories about elections at an epic high, Amber McReynolds has never been busier. She has led efforts to modernize voting at the municipal level, statewide and nationally. As director of elections in Denver, she helped enact ballot tracing and participated in efforts to modernize voting statewide, such as allowing same-day voter registration and full voting by mail. Many of the initiatives she worked on are now being adopted around the country. Today she works on voting by mail at the federal level, as a President Joe Biden-appointed governor of the United States Postal Service, where she oversees the postal service’s role in elections.

At last weekend’s GOP state assembly, lack of trust in Colorado’s elections was a dominant theme — despite county clerks of all parties vouching for the security of the state’s election systems — and election deniers passed an update to the party platform to make official their opposition to mail ballots for any Coloradan except active-duty military and those who are physically not able to vote in person. In the interview that follows, McReynolds stamps out some of the rumors and discusses how mail-in voting has delivered on its promise of expanding the democratic process.

Helen Thorpe:
How did you first get interested in voting?

Amber McReynolds: It goes back a long way. Both of my grandmothers were election judges. They would work all day at the polls, so my mom would pick us up from school, and we would take them cookies or treats and visit them at the polling places. Both were very civically engaged. The one thing each of them always said was, “It doesn’t matter who you vote for, just as long as you participate.” My parents had the same approach. My mom was a schoolteacher and my dad was a defense lawyer and public defender, and for the past 35 years, he has served on the bench as a judge in Illinois. So, a family of public service. It was deeply ingrained.

I had two different roles before coming to Denver. One focused on improving the judicial process in Illinois, streamlining cases that dealt with family violence and child abuse, and then I went to work for what was called the New Voters Project, a national project that had a state chapter in Iowa. We were nonpartisan, and the sole focus was to work with colleges and universities during the 2004 elections to increase engagement and participation among college students. That really opened my eyes to how backward a lot of the voting procedures were, how difficult they were for people to understand. The rules varied from county to county, and by state. So I wanted to get involved in election administration and make a difference. And with that project, I was coming to Denver quite a bit, and I remember walking around downtown Denver for hours and being mesmerized by the mountains and the city, because I had grown up in a small town. I decided that I loved Denver, and I applied for a job as an operational coordinator at the Denver Elections Commission, as it was called then. In the interview, the guy who would eventually be my boss — I was 24, had my master’s and had held various director-level jobs — said, “Aren’t you a little young to be applying for this job?”

"I decided that I loved Denver, and I applied for a job as an operational coordinator at the Denver Elections Commission, as it was called then."

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That kind of told me a lot about the culture of the commission. I was wondering, am I going to be the youngest person they have? I think it was my first day on the job when he said, “Why aren’t you married yet? Don’t you want to have kids?” The first year was tough for me. I felt like an outsider. I didn’t feel that I had anyone in the office that I could talk to who had similar views and values to mine. So I kind of didn’t fit in with the norm, if you will, in the office back then.

But there were a few folks who cared about putting the voters first and doing whatever we could to serve voters effectively, and those of us that cared about that ultimately moved up in the organization and were part of the change.

In 2006, Denver had a terrible election, with a technology failure at the vote centers. The part of the office that I was responsible for at that time were mail ballots and military and overseas voters, and that largely went the way that it should have, while voters who went to vote centers had to wait in five- or six-hour lines because of poor technology planning. At that time, I was a staffer in an environment where I couldn’t make any of the decisions, but I saw what bad looks like. A lot of people were probably disenfranchised. I kept a journal that I wrote during that process. I took notes and journaled, “Well, if it was me, I would do this....” It became kind of a playbook for the rest of my life.

Stephanie O’Malley came in as clerk, and she met with those of us who were still there and not let go after the debacle. When she met with me, she said, “I know you’re considering maybe going to the state, but I really want you to be part of the change here. What do you think of that?” And I said, “I would love to do that. I would love to be part of the change, and I have a whole book of ideas.”

What were the main concepts that you brought to the table?

The most successful companies in the world put their customers first — they try to be responsive and thoughtful and create great user environments. I think it should be the same with the voting process, but that hasn’t always been the approach. As we reorganized the office, Stephanie appointed me to be a manager, then deputy director. The new director and myself and Clerk O’Malley literally transformed the organization.

What guided everything we did is the idea that elections should have a set of values that matter equally. The acronym I use for that is FASTER, and it stands for fair, accessible, secure, transparent, equitable and reliable. All of those values matter equally in the voting process.

What we often see is — and we’re seeing this now — we see legislators only talk about security, or only talk about accessibility. But all those values matter equally: fairness, accessibility, security, transparency, equity and reliability. We have to balance those objectives when we’re creating policies, and also when we’re trying to create a process that voters can be proud of, that they can be excited about — and in my mind, that does not involve waiting in a five-hour line.

We have to meet people where they are in their lives. This is their right to vote, and it should not be difficult. It should not be laced with barriers that prevent anyone, regardless of affiliation, from participating. I believe strongly that our country was founded on that philosophy. And to get there, we have to center the process around the voter.

You put in place a system that allows for an enormous amount of transparency. Can you explain the origin of the Ballot TRACE system?

In 2008, when I was deputy director, we had the highest turnout we had ever seen. We had to staff about a sixty-person phone bank to handle calls about the election. The majority of calls were either “I missed the voter registration deadline, how do I register?” or “Where’s my polling place?” And then the second or third top call every time was “Where’s my ballot?” “Did you mail it?” “Did you get it back?”

We didn’t have a system for the agents to look up where a ballot was, so we looked at that: Okay, is there a technological solution to this? At that time, the postal service had just created what was called an intelligent barcode, meaning tracking information on an envelope and using scan data at various points in the process. They could see where a piece of mail was. It was premised on the tracking of packages by FedEx or by the postal service.

Leveraging that idea, we built the first-ever ballot tracking system, not only for our staff — to make sure the ballots were getting where they should be, to make sure there was integrity — but it was a customer service tool, as well. A communications tool, an information tool.

Voters can sign up for texts or voice messages about the status of their ballot, so they get a message all the way through the process. Your ballot has been mailed, it’s on the way to you, it’s out for delivery with your carrier, and then when the elections office receives the ballot.

"Voters can sign up for texts or voice messages about the status of their ballot, so they get a message all the way through the process."

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This system addresses all those key values. It provides more fairness, it provides more accessibility, it provides security, it’s more transparent, it provides equity, and it makes the election more reliable. And we didn’t have to get a law changed to do it; it’s just creating a customer-service application.

Now multiple states are using it. California, Colorado uses it statewide, Nevada used it in 2020, Arizona uses it widely, Georgia, Virginia, North Carolina — it’s started to spread across the country. I think more than fifty million voters in 2020 had access to that type of system to track their ballots. So it was very much transformational, and frankly just pushed the industry into a new way of thinking about things, to put voters first.

How did Colorado turn toward having full vote-by-mail elections?

Western states have been far more expansive with options to vote broadly over time, going back to women’s suffrage — Colorado was the first state to pass that on the ballot — so we’ve had a tradition [of embracing change]. And Colorado was one of the first states to do early voting.

When vote by mail started to expand, Oregon was first, Washington second, we were closely third. But it was driven by voters. When we said you can request a mail ballot, first you had to sign up every election. And then once we said you can sign up for all future elections, we saw almost 80 percent of Colorado voters opt in. They chose it themselves. It wasn’t government saying, “You have to do it this way.” Voters were choosing that option; they were choosing that service. It was driven by voters and driven by this concept of good service.

The benefits are vast. Voters are more educated; they have time at home to think about the choices they’re making, and research them if they want to. You can’t have that experience when you’re standing in a booth. Our ballots are long, so we kind of need that time.

But it was driven by the voters.

And then in the 2012 election, the 20 percent of the voters who had not opted in were calling and saying “Where’s my ballot? Everybody got their ballot in the mail!”
click to enlarge EVAN SEMÓN
Evan Semón
How did state leaders come to shape the Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act, HB13-1303, which allowed for election-day registration and full voting by mail at the state level?

In 2013, I was invited to go to a few meetings at the Capitol, with a small group of democracy-minded leaders on all sides of the aisle. At that time, I was director of elections for Denver. A few key clerks — Pam Anderson of Jefferson County, Hillary Hall of Boulder County, Tiffany Parker from La Plata County, and Sheila Reiner, who was the Mesa County clerk at the time — we were all there. Then more clerks started to get involved, but that was the initial cohort.

The legislature and Speaker [Dickey Lee] Hullinghorst, they really wanted to modernize voter registration. We already had online voter registration, but there was room to make further improvements, because we had some outdated deadlines, and the process was not modern.

And I, along with a few county clerks — all women, initially, by the way — we all said, Wait a minute: Eighty-plus percent of voters are requesting a ballot by mail. And if we reform and send a ballot to all and keep in-person voting at vote centers, we can improve service and cut costs. So all those factors led to the creation of 1303.

Amazingly, now, it’s nine years old, almost exactly. That date is stuck in my head because my son was born that April. When I went into labor, the bill was 150 pages, and I took my copy to the hospital, had Kenton, and that same day, they were finalizing the bill that would get filed. My deputy called me, and I answered, and she said, “What do you think about this change?” And I said, “It sounds good. By the way, I just had Kenton, a few hours ago.”

She said, “What are you doing answering the phone?”

What counties led the way in terms of voting innovations that were adopted statewide?

A lot of great things were happening in various counties. One thing we led on was ballot tracking. Ballot TRACE — we had created that in 2009, so that system was in place four years before we passed this bill. Jefferson County had started to do more drop boxes, and we followed suit on that. We had also digitized the registration process and created an app for voter registration.

How did the advent of voting by mail and these other reforms change voting trends? And does voting by mail benefit one party or another?

It doesn’t benefit one side or the other.

On vote by mail, every study that’s been done shows that it benefits Republicans and Democrats alike. Sometimes, depending on the state, Independent turnout goes up a little, and that’s more because Independents don’t get the same level of outreach from the two parties as the two parties do for their members.

Some of the other benefits of voting by mail: It does create a more informed electorate. People have more time to research issues and candidates at home. Ballot issues can be long, and judges — I mean, most people don’t know those names. Confronted with them, we saw people were under-voting, or not voting for a lot of those things, because they didn’t know. One outcome we have seen is an increase in how far down the ballot people will go. People go farther down the ballot when they have time to research and think about the issues.

"Some of the other benefits of voting by mail: It does create a more informed electorate. People have more time to research issues and candidates at home."

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And there has been an increase in turnout everywhere it’s been implemented. There was an increase in Utah; they followed closely after us, and that’s a very red state. Nebraska has twelve counties that now vote by mail, and their turnout tripled in the primaries and went up in the general as well. That’s in a very red state and a very rural state, where people often live very far away from where a polling place may be. So it meets people where they are, and there is no evidence that it benefits one party or another.

In 2013, we also created same-day registration and got rid of the outdated deadlines. [Previously] we had a thirty-day registration deadline. By modernizing that, it’s not like there are people new to the state using that in a significant way; it’s mostly in-state voters moving to new places, and now they are enfranchised in the place where they live.

When we first implemented same-day registration, for the 2014 midterm elections, one more Republican used it statewide than Democrats, almost an even split in terms of percentage.

Are there advantages to voting by mail during a pandemic?

Yes. When you don’t have thousands of polling places that need to be staffed and manned, and voting booths that have to be cleaned [after every use] — all that in-person structure — you need less staff.

One of the top issues for election officials around the country is finding enough qualified people to be election judges.

And with the implementation of the new model, depending on the county, some counties saw about a 60 to 70 percent reduction in the labor they needed to run an election.
click to enlarge EVAN SEMÓN
Evan Semón
Can you address the idea that voting by mail allows fraud?

The minute election processes get politicized, we have a problem. There have been examples of this over time. I think of Florida 2000 and the aftermath of that election. Some of the same purveyors of the “Stop the Steal” this time were on the ground in Florida in 2000.

But that election was far closer — it was down to one state, it was within a very slim margin — versus 2020, which was not that close. But a lot of this can be tracked back over many years, and many of the same bad actors pop up.

The “Stop the Steal” website was purchased in the fall of 2016, because people thought Trump wouldn’t win then. So this all started before the 2016 election. Right after 2016, you didn’t hear so much about it, after the candidate they wanted to win was elected. You trace it back, a lot of this disinformation, mal-information, and lies and conspiracy theories, have been driven by Trump and allies and the folks who want to drive a wedge, drive distrust into the process.

I’ve always been an Independent; I call it like it is. I would call out the other side if they were doing this and spreading misinformation. Not all Republicans believe the conspiracy stuff. But there are a significant group of people who are listening to this and don’t care about facts. You’re totally entitled to your own opinions, but the minute we are creating facts or we can no longer have a conversation about factual evidence, we’re in a very challenging situation.

And the other thing is, most people don’t understand how elections work. People fill out their ballot and assume, poof! — there’s an election result, when there’s a lot of detail that goes into the process. It’s highly regulated and it’s highly secure, and the majority of Americans don’t understand how it works. So it was sort of easy to spread a lie.

Can you describe what makes the process secure?

It’s a highly regulated process. Elections were deemed critical infrastructure in December of 2016, which means the Department of Homeland Security and key cyber-security agencies have started to set up structures to ensure that elections are secure, just like our electrical grid.

The other thing that I would say about elections generally is that we can always continuously improve, and if we are not continuously improving and continuously putting up our defenses for the next threat, then we’re not doing what we should be doing.

There are examples of bipartisan legislation that has been passed federally, and that is important, so there is a federal, state, and local aspect to this, but elections are generally run at the local level — by counties, by cities, sometimes elected clerks, sometimes appointed, sometimes hired. There are 9,000 local election offices. And there are going to be some bad apples. We have an example in Colorado with a clerk who wasn’t following the law, and now she’s being held accountable. Law enforcement is dealing with that.

"We have an example in Colorado with a clerk who wasn’t following the law, and now she’s being held accountable."

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In terms of voter fraud, one of the reasons that systematic fraud can’t be done, or is so difficult to do, is the number of multiple factors and multiple touchpoints and multiple people and multiple systems that would have to be coordinated to make that happen.

Election systems, voting tabulation systems, voting machines are not connected to the internet. There are elements of the voting process that are, such as our voter registration system, but ballot tabulation systems in Colorado — none of that is connected to the internet.

We also have advanced auditing measures. We do risk-limiting audits after each election. Our system has been audited more than any other in the country, because in addition to the reforms we did on the front end, we added audits to identify any disruptions or things that shouldn’t be happening.

And there are other touchpoints to eliminate fraud. With vote by mail, ballots can’t be forwarded. So if you move and you don’t update your address, your ballot will be returned to the election office, and you’re going to have to take action. You will have to vote in person or contact the office. We have an address validation process using national change-of-address data, but we also just use the mail to validate that someone is who they say they are.

Next is validation on the back end, and signature verification is the current method of validation in most states. Colorado does a great job with standards, and there are policies that dictate how that works, and there is transparency around the process. Watchers can observe that process.

And then on the ballot-counting side, you can go watch ballots move through the counting process. It’s all paper ballots. We have a paper ballot for every vote cast. There are further validations: How many voters are in this precinct, how many ballots were cast. All of that happens with the audits. So when people say there is this massive-scale fraud, there is just no evidence of that based on all of the audits, all of the touchpoints in the system where these numbers are validated.

Then voter fraud — individual situations — it is incredibly difficult for voters to get away with it, because we have all those touchpoints. One case, Steve Curtis, who used to be the Republican party state chair and was then a radio host for a while, in 2016 he was claiming there was going to be massive fraud. Well, he lives in Weld County, and Weld County caught him trying to cast his wife’s ballot. And they did that with these processes we have in place. They prosecuted him, and he has a felony on his record now. So we have these processes in place, and the system actually catches voters who are bad actors and are trying to do something wrong, but it’s incredibly rare that people try to do that. Most people just want to cast their ballot.
click to enlarge Mike Lindell, Pillow Kingdom founder and chief election denier, was in Colorado last week to push The Big Lie. - GETTY IMAGES
Mike Lindell, Pillow Kingdom founder and chief election denier, was in Colorado last week to push The Big Lie.
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So just to break things down: If I got a mail ballot, and I filled it out and turned it in, and then I tried to go to a polling place and vote, what would happen?

When you return that ballot, the minute they capture that barcode and that signature that says that you are you, you’re marked as having voted. So if you go in person to vote, they would say, “I’m sorry, but we show that you returned a mail ballot.” They would probably have the exact date and an image of your returned envelope. And if you said, “Well, I didn’t return that ballot,” they would have you vote using what is called a provisional ballot, and those are set aside for extra validation. And then they would go back and check that provisional ballot and your statement and what you said versus the record they have on file. But you would not be able to cast a regular ballot, because you already returned one, and they know that in real time.

Same situation if you try to go to another county. The election officials will catch that, because of the real-time connectivity of the state voter registration system.

What about the idea that ballots could somehow go astray in the mail?

Ballot tracking is the best way to guard against that. If a voter doesn’t receive their ballot, they can contact the office or they can go in person. Those situations happen, but it’s pretty rare.

But ballot tracking provides immediate notification and gives voters visibility to know if something goes awry. The ballot was mailed on this date, I haven’t received it yet, the postal system has no further tracking information on it — they can see that.

That’s why that kind of system further protects and secures the integrity of the process.

What elements of the processes that you helped put into place in Colorado are you now helping to implement on the national scale?

I helped found the organization called the National Vote at Home Institute, and I went there in 2018. I finished my contract with them last year, but my work continues. The National Vote at Home Institute was designed to help states improve and enhance their vote-by-mail processes. We did a ton of work in 2020 to help states as the pandemic was roaring. We were nonpartisan. We worked with red states, blue states, purple states, and helped implement best practices at the national level. Now I work with various organizations.

Vote by mail is obviously in my portfolio, but also just good election practices generally. So I advise states to implement good auditing systems, transparency mechanisms, technology enhancements. I do a lot to encourage states to enhance their technology services to voters.

Ranked-choice voting is something I’ve also been working on at various levels of government.

But all my work centers around this idea of putting voters first, solving problems, providing solutions, and modernizing and renewing our election structure.

What do you expect to see in the 2022 and 2024 elections in terms of voting?

We’re going to continue to see voters expect convenient options.

Texas tried to make it difficult for voters to vote by mail. An incredible number of Republicans did not get their votes counted, and an incredible number of Democrats and Independents also did not get their votes counted. It’s an example of what a legislature thought was a good idea, but it impacted voters of all political stripes, and they disenfranchised people by those policies.

We might see some of these folks who are passing policies that are driven by the conspiracies and lies around elections passing policies that are a disservice to their own electorate start to rethink. I think in the midterms, we will see how turnout is; we will see how engaged people are.

It’s also interesting to watch how people change their voting behavior. In 2020, most people in the United States voted before election day. Most votes were cast and even processed before election day. I think that is a change in the campaign dynamic that will continue. Clearly, voters of all political stripes want convenient options, and we are going to continue to see voting early, whether it be vote by mail or voting before election day [by other means].

"In 2020, most people in the United States voted before election day. Most votes were cast and even processed before election day."

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One of our biggest challenges are the disinformation, misinformation, lies and conspiracies. It is a security issue. Until law enforcement starts to truly hold people accountable who are attacking the system, we are going to continue to see the distrust rise, because those people who are distrusting the system are being told the wrong information by their political leaders, which is very dangerous.

I think election officials are going to continue to have very difficult jobs. The more transparent election officials can be, the better they will be able to push back and fight the disinformation.

It is devastating to watch the Ukraine situation, because it very much is an attack on democracy, but one of the things that has been inspirational for me is that President Zelensky — and our intelligence services — President Zelensky has been highly transparent with what his needs are and what is happening on the ground. We’ve never seen that level of transparency before.

I think that kind of approach to transparency is a good path for election officials across the country to approach elections. Because it’s hard to combat a very transparent process.

Recently, a group of county clerks gathered at the Capitol, and that was essentially a call for transparency: Come forward if you have information about voter fraud, put it to law enforcement. Right?

Yes, and I have had people say, “This will create fraud,” or “I know of this instance happening,” and I would always say, “Did you turn that in to law enforcement?”

Be transparent. If you have evidence, why aren’t you reporting it to the authorities? If folks are going to say those things, they need to show up with evidence that a court of law would consider — not evidence on a conspiracy-theory website, but evidence in a court of law that has a process to consider the integrity of the evidence.

The attack on Dominion Voting Systems, which is based here in Colorado, their lawsuits are one of the only accountability mechanisms happening at the moment. They were attacked and defamed in a deliberate way to destroy their brand and destroy their name.

They’ve been an incredible Colorado company, supported elections here for a long time and supported many states, and I find it odd that they were singled out with all this misinformation. Accountability needs to happen for those who have attacked our democracy in this way. It is really important.
click to enlarge Embattled Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters is now running for Secretary of State. - TINA PETERS FACEBOOK
Embattled Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters is now running for Secretary of State.
Tina Peters Facebook
What about safety of clerks? Some people have received threats. Can you respond to that?

Election administration, it’s critical infrastructure. That not only includes buildings and technology, but also the people who run the process. Bad actors and perpetrators need to be held accountable. These are officials acting in an official capacity, and anybody who tries to interfere with them doing their jobs and following the law needs to be held accountable.

We have to make sure we have the right accountability structures for that to happen. There can be more done at the federal level. Certainly the Department of Justice is looking at some of these things, and I hope all of the federal agencies involved really take a hard look at the accountability mechanisms on this.

But we also need to make sure that election offices have the funding they need to secure their operations, run their processes and have sustainable funding for elections over time; elections have been underfunded for decades. So making sure election offices have the resources they need to do their jobs and protect their offices. Their staff really matters.

And if there is a clerk who provides an insider threat or who is not following the law, then we need to make sure we have the right accountability for that person. We have to recognize that there are going to be bad actors, so we have to have the right accountability in place for that.

And the threats — I had to hire private security. One of those crazy sites started targeting me. There was this guy who was posting pictures of my kids and saying that I should be hung outside of my house for my kids to see because I’m a traitor. I turned it all over to law enforcement, FBI and local. And I hired security for a few weeks, from mid-November to Christmas [of 2020]. And I know what I experienced was nowhere near the level of what election clerks around the country were seeing. It’s scary.

So this stuff has to be taken seriously. Treating it as veiled threats or what have you — as one of the Georgia election officials said, “Somebody is going to get hurt if this stuff doesn’t stop.” And then January 6 happened. So we have to be eyes wide open and take this stuff seriously; it isn’t just talk. And there are people who are driving this, influencers who are encouraging this. At what point does free speech infringe on someone else’s ability to be safe?

It’s a hard conversation, but it’s one that we have to have.
click to enlarge EVAN SEMÓN
Evan Semón
What are your thoughts about open primaries?

Independents now make up about 45 percent of the country. In Colorado, it is well over 40 percent. So Independents are a growing group, and that trend has been happening for a long period of time. I think people are feeling left out of the two parties, or not engaged, or they can make their own decisions and they don’t need to have a party tell them what decision to make.

I am a huge proponent of open processes. I think it provides a better way for all voters to be engaged. I respect the parties’ ability to influence the outcomes and choices on the ballot, and I think there are ways to do that without closing the primary.

There are new methods of open primaries, including one that is going to be tested in Alaska this year. That is what is considered a top four or top five open primary. Every voter gets the same ballot, regardless of your party affiliation. Everyone gets the same ballot, and the top four or top five candidates go to the general election. Maybe it is two Republicans and two Democrats, or maybe it includes an Independent, but the top vote-getters in that first round go to the general election, and then ranked-choice voting is used, and people can rank their preferences.

Alaska is going to do that for the special vacancy election for Representative Don Young’s seat coming up, and then they’re going to do that for all their races this August and November. That is one to watch. I think that reform has a lot of promise. It could be something Colorado could take a look at, given the growing number of voters who have chosen to be Independent.

When you’ve got 45 percent Independents, it kind of puts the parties at risk to have a closed process. The assemblies — it’s this tiny percentage of voters who participate, and it kind of puts you at risk. Because if you aren’t testing some of your candidates in the primary to see if they would appeal to that 45 percent of the electorate, and you throw somebody out there who only appealed to a tiny percentage within the party, you’re putting yourself at risk for not giving full consideration to all issues.

In our primary structure, if there are ten candidates, you can win with 20 percent or 25 percent of the electorate. Which means that 70 percent of people didn’t vote for you. To me, that’s kind of an odd construct.

What are you working on now in your role with the United States Postal Service?

I’m one of nine governors that are appointed by the president. I’m the only Independent, and the only woman.

The postal service delivers to 160 million doors every day. We have a $95-billion-a-year operation and 650,000 employees. It is the only government entity, or quasi-government entity — or really, any business — that has reached every single community in the country. We just rolled out the test kit program, where the administration purchased test kits, and the postal service handled all logistics on that, and we were very successful.

In my role, the new chair of the board asked me to chair the elections committee. We have a few committees. We have a strategy and innovations committee, which I serve on. We have a governance committee, an auditing and financial committee, an ops committee, and then we have an elections committee.

So I’m chairing the elections committee now, which has a focus on how the postal service serves the public with regard to all election mail. And that doesn’t include just vote by mail; it includes all letters that election officials send out, which is a lot of mail, actually. Voter registration letters, notices about polling places — we deliver all of that, and we provide the tracking information, the change-of-address information. So the postal service definitely has a role in the election process, and I’m really focused on how I can help the postal service improve on these processes and better serve every single community in the country. There are very diverse needs and perspectives — from Alaska, where they have sleds that deliver some mail and planes that fly into very remote areas, to metropolitan areas, where everything is more condensed. So it’s an honor to be part of that, and I’m deeply impressed by the postal service and the depth and breadth of operations and how they have connectivity across the country.

In 2020, they had the fastest delivery times on election mail they have ever had, and we got even better in 2021. That is a metric I am keeping my eye on — how long it gets for a delivery to get from point A to point B.

And it is not just about elections. If we can improve service for election mail, we are improving service for all mail. We are trying to improve a service that has a universal service obligation under the law, and we have to be financially stable, we have to cover our costs, so we operate as a business even though we’re quasi-governmental. We just passed the Postal Reform Act, which not only addresses some issues about retiree benefits, but also requires the postal service to report on mail service across the country, so there will be more transparency. And the president’s budget included an allocation of dollars for improvements in election mail and supporting that process. It’s very much operational. It is not a full vote-by-mail system nationally, but it directs the postal service to improve services around election mail, to do more than we already do. It has a provision for postage, reducing the amount of postage states and locals have to pay. It has more support for rural or underserved communities, including reservations. It’s pretty flexible, and it allows us to determine the strategic placement of some of those funds, but all with the goal of improving service and access for the public.
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Helen Thorpe is a freelance journalist who has written three books of narrative nonfiction about immigrants seeking legal status, veterans returning home from conflict, and refugee families in the midst of resettlement. She has also published a digital only collection of linked personal essays about family, migration, and food. She is not affiliated with Westword or Voice Media in any way.