FOX13 puts the U.S. Postal Service to the test ahead of 2020 election

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Early voting in Shelby County ended Thursday with record-breaking turnout. The only way to vote now is at your polling place Tuesday, November 3, or get your absentee ballot in the mail.

If that’s the case, you are going to want to mail the ballot first thing Friday morning. Tennessee law says absentee ballots must get to the county election commission by the time the polls close Tuesday.

After all the complaints about delays and missing mail, FOX13 put the U.S. Postal Service to the test not just once, but twice as we mailed regular business envelopes with a forever stamp from all over the area.

FOX13 has an entire section dedicated to ELECTION 2020. Click here for more.

Rick Stonum said he believes the U.S. Postal Service would have failed had we done the test in August.

“There it is. It is right there, but it took almost a month to arrive,” said Stonum who held up an envelope that took 24 days to arrive.

It was his car’s registration from the County Clerk’s office. His concern quickly shifted from the glovebox to the ballot box.

“We trust the post office, but when you get a deal like this, when it took a month to get this to me from the Shelby County Clerk’s Office, how are you going to trust the post office to get your absentee ballot back?” Stonum told FOX 13.

There’s no grace period for ballots no matter when they are postmarked.

“They have to be here by 7 p.m. on Election Day,” Shelby County Election Commission Administrator Linda Phillips told FOX13.

Time is unforgiving for absentee ballots to arrive at the Shelby County Election Commission Office. Administrator Phillips even gave this warning for the thousands upon thousands of people expected to mail absentee ballots this week: “I really think if voters want and absolutely want their votes to count they should mask up and try and vote in person,” she said.

RELATED: Election 2020: What to do if you don’t receive an absentee ballot

Memphis Postal Workers Union president Melvin Richardson told FOX13 delays like the one Stonum experienced with mail delivery are the fault of work and processing changes made by Post Master General Louis DeJoy.

“As a postal worker, we are very dedicated to serving the community,” said Richardson.

Richardson said a federal injunction freed up necessary overtime that his union workers need to promptly process the mail including your absentee ballots.

“So if it takes an extra 30 minutes to make sure that you get all the mail, then that is what is happening now. And this is the way it used to be. And the way it has been for years,” said Richardson.

FOX13 Investigates wanted to put the postal service in Memphis and Shelby County to the test. We mailed letters with forever stamps to the FOX13 station from post offices across Memphis such as Cordova, Germantown, Frayser, Southwind, and Hickory Hill. We did this on October 5.

All of the letters arrived in two to four business days.

RELATED: Bartlett Post Office designated Election Day post office in Shelby County

FOX13 took those letters to Richardson and asked him whether that time frame was the norm and if absentee ballots mailed Friday, October 30 should arrive Tuesday, November 3 by 7 p.m. to be counted.

“I don’t see why it would not," said Richardson. "I don’t see why it would not.” s

FOX13 asked if he could guarantee it.

“I can’t guarantee anything personally," Richardson answered. "But I can guarantee you that every measure is put in place and everything is working back like it should be.”

FOX13 tested the postal service for a second time, mailing first-class stamped letters from the post office boxes outside in Arlington, Millington, Frayser, Cordova, and East Memphis. We even dropped off a letter at the downtown Memphis 3rd Street post office. Some arrived at the station within a day. The rest took no more than three days to arrive.

“You have done your due diligence to test us out on this, and I think we passed your test with flying colors,” said Richardson.

RELATED: Three new ballot scanners should help speed up absentee ballot counting on election night

But after our tests, Rich Stonum is not swayed. He called FOX13 to say a letter from a friend in Las Vegas arrived months after it was mailed to him.

Stonumsaid he believes voters are taking a big risk with absentee ballots.

“Are they going to be put somewhere, or lost somewhere?” asked Stonum.

FOX13 asked Stonum if he trusts the U.S. Postal Service to get it right when it comes to absentee ballots.

“I am not going to trust the mail. I’m going to vote in person,” Stonum said.