State and federal legislation and rules about voter registration and absentee balloting treat the U.S. Postal Service as an institution of undiminished vitality and efficiency; capable of delivering election-related mail swiftly and unerringly. Meanwhile, the actual (as opposed to utopian) Postal Service is a wounded, diminished entity. Hemorrhaging money, hounded by critics, and damaged by privatization, competition, and fundamental shifts in the ways that people communicate with each other, the Postal Service is fighting for survival. Niceties and services in support of elections have suffered as a consequence.
For example, the Postal Service no longer accommodates the State’s use of a generic postage-paid statewide voter registration application. The reason? Because mail sorting is automated, and because the Postal Service has shrunk in size, the post office will no longer allow the State to benefit from a postage-paid card that has to be re-routed to one of 254 destination counties.
Section 13.121 of the Texas Election Code provides that the State of Texas will pay the postage on voter registration applications – this relieves counties of the burden of paying for and getting bulk business reply mail permits county-by-county, and also ensures that a potential voter can send a postage-paid generic voter registration application directly to the Texas Secretary of State, confident that the application will be properly re-routed to the correct county voter registrar.
The State has to accept a generic national voter registration application because that’s what Federal law requires (per 42 U.S.C. 1973gg-4, each State that is subject to the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 must accept a generic national voter registration application, addressed to the chief elections officer in that State). So Section 13.121 in the Texas Election Code is really just the State law implementation of Federal law.
The Postal Service has responded to this state of affairs by stating that USPS will still deliver national voter registration applications to the Secretary of State, but that the post office will not sort those applications and re-route them to the individual counties. The Postal Service lacks the money and personnel to continue that service. In effect, the former duties of the Postal Service with respect to getting voter registration applications to the right local voter registrars has been offloaded onto the States.
So the State of Texas had to design 254 different voter registration applications (one for each county), and had to give up use of its postage-paid design for the generic (i.e., non-county-provided) voter registration form. The counties may still use the State’s postage-paid permit (Permit No. 4511), but people using the generic national form will need to pay for the stamp.