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Andy Nguyen
By Andy Nguyen October 31, 2022

No, Postal Service workers cannot ‘do anything they want’ to mail-in ballots

If Your Time is short

  • The U.S. Postal Service is the country's only mail service and was established in 1970 as an independent government agency. 
  • Postal Service employees are prohibited by federal law from tampering with or destroying any election mail, including ballots. 
  • Around 99% of mail-in ballots are sent to election officials on time.

Misleading claims about the safety of mail-in voting aren’t new, but a recent Instagram video has added a new twist, claiming that people must choose the right postal service to ensure their ballots are counted.

The Oct. 27 video features a man sitting in his car saying that the U.S. Post Office is a "de jure postal service," while the U.S. Postal Service is a "de facto" federal corporation. The man claims the Postal Service doesn’t "work for the people," and it can do whatever it wants to mail-in ballots.

"If you use the United States Postal Service certified mail or registered mail, they can do anything they want with those (mail-in) ballots," he said. "They can take a box of those ballots, a crate of those ballots … leave them there, they could set them on fire, they can throw them in the dumpster."

The man said the only way for a mail-in ballot to be safely counted is if it’s sent by registered mail. 

"Registered mail is a bond, no one can scam that. If they do, they’re looking at serious jail time," he said. "If you go to the United States Postal Service, they can get away with (scamming). They can burn your mail and they won’t get into any trouble."

The U.S. Postal Service is not a federal corporation, and there’s no difference between it and the post office — they are the same entity.

Studies and experts have repeatedly found that voting by mail is a safe and secure way to cast a ballot. 

The Instagram post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.) 

Postal Service spokeswoman Martha Johnson said there is "absolutely no truth to the claims" in the Instagram video.

The U.S. Postal Service was established by the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970, which transformed the U.S. Post Office Department into an "independent establishment of the executive branch" and is the only postal service in the country that handles mail. 

Although the service has some trappings of a corporation, such as a similar leadership structure and not relying on taxpayer funding, it is still considered a government agency. 

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The term post office is typically made about facilities used by the Postal Service where people can buy stamps or drop off packages or letters, but it’s often colloquially used for the Postal Service itself. 

Gerry Langeler, a spokesman for the National Vote at Home Institute, said the Instagram video’s claim that postal workers can do whatever they want to ballots is "poppycock." Federal law prohibits Postal Service employees from destroying or tampering with mail, including election mail.

If caught destroying or diverting election mail, employees face state and federal penalties, Langeler said.  

There have been a few incidents of Postal Service employees dumping or holding onto ballots. Authorities recovered the ballots and re-sent them through the mail.

Those incidents are few and far between, as most ballots sent through the mail get to election officials on time. 

Mail-in ballots are treated as first-class mail by default, which means they will arrive within two to five business days after being sent. It is Postal Service policy to prioritize election mail, and ballots are still delivered to election offices even if they do not have enough postage.

A Postal Service analysis during the 2021 elections found that 99.3% of ballots reached officials within three days of being sent by voters, 99.8% within five days and 99.9% within seven days. 

Voters can check the status of their ballots online through their local or state election office if tracking is available. Many local election offices allow voters to sign up for free to receive a text or email alerting them when their mail ballots have been received, such as through BallotTrax.

"If it suddenly doesn’t seem to be making progress, you can alert your elections office, have that ballot voided, and have a new one issued, with a new unique bar code on the return envelope," Langeler said. 

Our ruling

An Instagram video claims voters should not mail in their ballots through the U.S. Postal Service because employees could destroy them and encourages people to send them through the U.S. Post Office instead. 

The U.S. Postal Service is the nation’s only postal service, and the post office is a colloquial term used for the agency. Postal Service employees are prohibited by federal law from destroying or tampering with election mail, including ballots. 

We rate this claim Pants on Fire!

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No, Postal Service workers cannot ‘do anything they want’ to mail-in ballots

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