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Plan to move Reno mail processing could disrupt elections, official says

State officials worry that plans to move Northern Nevada mail processing from Reno to Sacramento will disrupt the state’s mail-in ballot elections.

The Silver State is one of several battlegrounds in the 2024 elections, with Northern Nevada’s Washoe County considered one of the more purple counties in the state. Presidential candidates and their surrogates stop in Nevada throughout the election cycle, and all eyes will be on the state again come November.

But a plan from the U.S. Postal Service to downsize its Reno Processing and Distribution Center into a local processing center could disrupt those elections, Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar said.

Nevada runs some of nation’s most accessible and secure elections, Aguilar said, and the Postal Service is one of the “critical pieces in the puzzle.”

The Postal Service is responsible for delivering mail ballots to the state’s registered voters — unless they opt out — and then returning the completed mail ballots to county clerks, the state’s chief elections officer said. Many of Nevada’s voters have participated in elections using the 2021 automatic mail ballot system. In the recent February presidential primary, more than 78 percent of the voters participated by mail.

In Washoe, more than 85 percent of voters submitted a mail ballot.

Officials and political candidates on both sides of the aisle worry that sending mail ballots from Nevada to California before they are sent back to Northern Nevada could cause delays in results and could lead to ballots not being counted. The proposal will not affect mail processing in Southern Nevada.

Those concerns were exacerbated last weekend, when a blizzard dropped multiple feet of snow in Northern Nevada, shutting down Interstate 80 and mountain highways for three days. Per state law, mail ballots postmarked on Election Day will be accepted up to four days after the election.

“This weekend was a great opportunity for people to see how important it is to ensure that we keep our mail local in Washoe County,” Aguilar said.

In a letter sent last week to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, Nevada’s U.S. Sens. Jacky Rosen and Catherine Cortez Masto and Northern Nevada Rep. Mark Amodei expressed a range of concerns, including timely and reliable deliveries.

Besides concerns with mail ballots, they worry other important mail, such as prescriptions and legal documents, could be delivered late.

Nevada’s congressional delegation said the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs alone fills about 80 percent of veterans’ prescriptions by mail, and the veterans rely on the Postal Service for timely delivery of their prescriptions.

“The USPS standard for local Reno mail received and delivered is two days, a standard which USPS has already struggled to meet,” the letter said. “Sending Nevadans’ mail to California does not seem like a promising way of improving this deficiency.”

Aguilar is concerned about what kind of authority Nevada departments — such as its courts, investigators and the secretary of state’s office — will have if mail ballots are sent out-of-state.

“You’re taking something that is so sacred to the state of Nevada and removing it from its jurisdiction, and putting it in the jurisdiction of another state,” Aguilar said.

Nevada received national spotlight during the 2020 presidential election and the 2022 midterms for its lengthy counting process; it was one of the last states to call its races. Aguilar has aimed to increase the state’s ability to produce election results for some races the night of the election. He worries this Postal Service plan could strain that capacity for county clerks.

“If we’re delayed in election results because we’re waiting for mail delivery to come through I-80, that’s not very fair to Nevadans,” Aguilar said.

Postal Service Spokesman Rod Spurgeon did not address those concerns, but he outlined how the proposal came about in a Tuesday statement provided to the Review-Journal. The Postal Service conducted an evaluation of operations and potential future uses of its Reno Processing and Distribution Center, and the initial results of the review support turning it into a local processing center with a $12 million to $14 million investment, and the plan would save between $3.1 million to $4.2 million annually, Spurgeon said.

The Reno center “will be a critical node to the unified movement of mail and packages across the regional processing and transportation system,” Spurgeon said in the statement. It will offer expanded and streamlined package processing capabilities in the local market and will include transferring some mail processing operations to the Sacramento Processing and Distribution Center in West Sacramento, Spurgeon said.

In their letter, the three Nevada members of Congress asked the USPS to respond by March 15 addressing their concerns, what kind of impact the USPS’ plan will have on jobs, mail ballots and overall mail services, as well as an explanation of the postal services’ assessment of weather conditions between Reno and Sacramento.

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