Ballot delivery delays, broken mailboxes and a lack of communication from GW Mail and Package Services riddled the voting process for more than 20 out-of-state students this fall, rendering many unable to vote via absentee ballot in the midterm elections earlier this month.
Despite ordering their ballots weeks in advance, two dozen students said they received theirs days before the election, after the election or never at all, leaving many with little time to cast their votes and mail their ballots back before state deadlines. The students said the University’s MPS delays “suppressed” their ability to participate in this year’s elections where 435 House of Representative, 35 Senate and 36 gubernatorial seats were up for grabs as young voters participated in record numbers in the last three decades of midterm elections.
University spokesperson Daniel Parra said MPS workers take a little more than a day to process USPS mail, and the University plans to add more electronic lockers to residence halls in the future with the goal of bringing students closer to their mail.
Parra declined to say why students may have experienced delays receiving or accessing their midterm ballots last week or how often employees distribute mail to students’ mailboxes.
“Mail and packages are delivered to all residence halls (including lockers at Thurston, Shenkman and West Halls) five days a week,” Parra said in an email. “On average, it takes 1.25 days to process mail delivered by USPS.”
Four students said they never received their absentee ballots through University mail for this year’s midterm election. Three said their state offices didn’t count their votes because of issues related to MPS delays leading up to or beyond state absentee ballot deadlines, which range from the night of Election Day to 10 days later. Four students said they returned home to vote in person or to fill out a new mail ballot because of MPS delays.
“The right to vote can’t be taken for granted, and we are thrilled that so many GW students start their lifelong civic journey as voters while here at GW,” Amy Cohen, the executive director of the Nashman Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service, said in a release about student engagement in this year’s midterm elections Wednesday.
MPS receives all student mail and has locations on every GW campus, with their primary package center located at the mailroom in the lower level of the Support Building on F Street.
MPS delivers mail to residents in West, Shenkman and Thurston halls via electronic smart lockers in their buildings, which send an email notification to students when mail is delivered. Students in all other residence halls receive mail in personal combination or lock and key mailboxes without a notification system and pick up packages from the Support Building upon receiving a PacTrac pickup notification.
Dylan Weiss, a junior from New Jersey majoring in international affairs, said despite ordering his absentee ballot from the state about a month before Election Day, he did not receive it in time to meet his state’s mail-in ballot deadline, which is six days after the election. After receiving his ballot three days after Election Day, he found that its delivery date documentation showed USPS delivered it to GW about two and a half weeks earlier on Oct. 24.
“GW had been in possession of it for a little over two weeks and just didn’t put it in my mailbox until after the election,” Weiss said.
Weiss said it was “messed up” that an institution in the center of D.C. could allow absentee ballot delays to occur past election deadlines, snuffing his voice out of the election.
“I was going to vote for the Democratic candidate – and he won anyway – but still it’s just something about the act of voting that I was looking forward to doing,” Weiss said.
Tess Romine, a freshman majoring in political communication, said her mother mailed her ballot from Florida to D.C. in October, but she received it just two days before Election Day, which was too late for her vote to be counted because of Florida’s mail-in deadline at 7 p.m. Nov. 8.
“It’s embarrassing and incredibly frustrating,” Romine said. “And of course, I didn’t get the results that I wanted in Florida, and there is like a tiny part of me that’s wondering, ‘If me and maybe some of my other friends had gotten our ballots, would the results be different?’”
Nicky Danilich, a junior majoring in political science, said he found his neighbor’s ballot and voter registration were incorrectly placed in his personal Guthridge Hall mailbox when he checked it days after the election.
“It made me feel frustrated because last year I didn’t receive my ballot, and I had to request a second which almost didn’t come in time,” Danilich said. “Now I have a feeling GW lost it somehow because the election office did send the first ballot.”
Some students said they were unable to open mailboxes in their residence halls while their Fix-It requests remained unresolved and emails asking MPS employees for repairs were left unanswered.
Jack Parr, a sophomore from New York majoring in political communication, said USPS reported his absentee ballot arrived in early October at his Guthridge Hall mailbox, but he couldn’t confirm its arrival or retrieve the ballot because the mailbox door was stuck shut. Parr said he filed three Fix-It tickets for the broken mailbox, which service records reported had been resolved, even though the mailbox remained broken.
“I filed a Fix-It for this, and three Fix-Its later they still hadn’t fixed the mailbox and I still had no ballot,” he said. “They would mark the work as complete, but as I still couldn’t open my mailbox, the work was definitely not complete.”
Parr said he picked up his ballot at the MPS Support Building the day before Election Day after filling out a GW form requesting a USPS worker unlock his GW mailbox and deliver it to the package center. He said he was able to vote in the election, but during a local election in November 2021, his ballot never arrived despite ordering it in September.
“I would feel so upset not being able to vote especially in a midterm year and especially because last year my ballot didn’t even come at all,” Parr said.
The Mount Vernon Campus houses a MPS site in West Hall that receives and distributes mail to those living on the campus. Two students said many Vern residents couldn’t open the doors of West Hall mailboxes in the weeks leading up to the election because their combinations did not work, leading students and staff to remove the front cover of the mailbox units and expose all mail to the public while the doors were disconnected from the wall.
Brielle Boyd, a freshman registered to vote in Washington and majoring in international affairs and dance, said students in West Hall resorted to opening a door of mailbox hatches to expose each mail container to access their ballots leading up to the election. She said staff started opening boxes for students, directly overseeing mail distribution in the days before Election Day.
Boyd said she missed Washington’s Nov. 8 deadline for ballots to be postmarked, having never received her ballot even though her parents mailed it to D.C. weeks before the election in early October.
“When the whole thing is open, there’s open access to all of the mailboxes,” Boyd said. “It’s a bit concerning given there are no box numbers on the inside, so you are kind of forced to look around unless you’ve memorized where your box is.”
Moksha Akil and Rory Quealy contributed reporting.