Postmaster General Louis DeJoy testifies before a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on the Postal Service on Capitol Hill in Washington in this Aug. 24, 2020, file photo. Credit: Tom Brenner / AP

WASHINGTON — On-time delivery of election and political mail dropped earlier this year, even before operational changes ordered by a new postmaster general caused an uproar this summer, the U.S. Postal Service’s Office of the Inspector General said.

The delivery of ballots, voter registration material and campaign mail on time was about 94.5 percent from April through June, a decrease of 1.7 percentage points when compared to the same period in 2018, the inspector general said in a report distributed Tuesday.

The assessment comes before the Nov. 3 elections that, because of the coronavirus pandemic, will include heavy voting by mail. Scrutiny of the Postal Service increased after the June arrival of Louis DeJoy, a prominent Republican donor, as postmaster general, and as President Donald Trump repeatedly and without evidence criticized voting by mail as prone to fraud.

The figures didn’t reflect the operational changes made by the service or the significant increases in delayed mail, which are to be addressed in a separate audit. The report flowed from an audit conducted during special and primary elections held in May and June.

“The Postal Service is committed to delivering election mail in a timely manner,” Dave Partenheimer, a Postal Service spokesperson, said in an email. “We employ a robust and proven process to ensure proper handling of all election mail, including ballots. This includes close coordination and partnerships with election officials at the local and state levels.”

DeJoy is to meet on Sept. 17 with state officials in charge of elections, the Postal Service said in a news release on Tuesday. “We stand ready to assist states and look forward to partnering with them on educating voters who plan to vote by mail,” DeJoy said in the news release.

Democrats have accused the administration of seeking to deter voting in hopes of altering the election’s outcome. DeJoy has denied any political motivation for cost-cutting measures he proposed but agreed to put them off until after the election. Before lawmakers on Capitol Hill, he defended his management of the agency and said that no one in the Trump administration had tried to interfere with postal operations.

The number of election and political mail pieces not delivered on time from April through June for seven processing centers that were audited was about 1.6 million, or 8 percent of the 20.2 million sent, the inspector general’s report said. Five of the facilities didn’t fully comply with procedures to make sure they were clear of election and political material at day’s end, the report said.

During a site visit in Oklahoma City, workers for the inspector general found two trays containing about 200 ballots on a workroom floor. Managers immediately had them sent out to the election boards, ensuring they were received on time, the report said.

In Baltimore, political mail received on May 12 sat unprocessed for five days, resulting in about 68,000 pieces not delivered on time, according to the audit.

The report cited a lack of oversight regarding who is responsible for completing all-clear certifications. The Postal Service in a reply appended to the report said it agreed with a recommendation to have logistics officers ensure the buildings are cleared of election mail.

Election and political mail can be sent as first class mail, which takes two to five days to be delivered, or marketing mail, which is cheaper and takes three to 10 days to be delivered, depending on the preference of the customer. However, ballots returned by voters are required to be sent as first-class mail.

The report also said cooperation needs to be improved between election authorities and the Postal Service for ballots to be delivered on time for the November elections.

The Postal Service recommends election officials send ballots to voters at least 15 days before an election, yet 34 states have absentee ballot request deadlines that don’t provide enough time, according to the report. It listed states including Minnesota, New Hampshire, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Pennsylvania — possible swing states whose outcome could be crucial in a close election.

Story by Todd Shields.