As vote-by-mail, absentee ballots and other options that boost voter participation grow in popularity; the Postal Service’s role in our nation’s election process becomes ever more important.
This is particularly evident in rural areas.
The 6,300 residents of Teton County, Montana, are scattered over 2,293 square miles. Five polling sites serve the entire county. Many residents live far from the county seat of Choteau, making absentee voting by mail an attractive option.
Teton County Clerk/Recorder Paula Jaconetty says the number of absentee voters has boomed during her 15 years in office. Nearly half of eligible voters have opted “permanent absentee,” meaning they are mailed an absentee ballot each election.
Ensuring all these ballots are counted requires a solid working relationship between county and postal officials, she added.
Doug Anderson would agree. He was postmaster at Choteau (he’s now at nearby Fairfield) during the 2016 election cycle. He put in place processes to help employees identify, segregate, postmark and deliver the distinctive green election envelopes in a timely fashion. Employees checked to ensure required signatures were present before ballots were delivered.
An open line of communication with county staff was a key. “Anytime you work with Paula, she is happy to take a few minutes. They’re swamped, but she’ll put down what she’s doing and be ready to help plan,” he said.
On election night, Choteau SSA Carol Keats made an evening check of local collection points to ensure any late ballot drop-offs would make the county’s 8 p.m. deadline. She then called Jaconetty to give her the all-clear.
“Our employees were fully on board, they understand the importance,” Anderson said. “The sooner we could get ballots to the county, the sooner they could process them and eliminate any last-minute crunch.”
Jaconetty and county officials were so satisfied with the process and the results she sent an email of thanks to the Dakotas District. “Our postmaster in Choteau has gone above and beyond the call in supplying Post Office service for elections,” she wrote in part. “Doug is always amazing to work with . . . he’s like our ray of sunshine.”
This story originally appeared in the Western Area Update, a U.S. Postal Service publication mailed quarterly to more than 110,000 postal employees in 17 western states. It is reprinted with the permission of the Postal Service.