In response to growing concerns about the Yale Campus Mail Service returning students’ absentee ballots back to sender, the University is working to deliver missing ballots to students while reevaluating Yale’s mail delivery system.
According to the University website, Yale students cannot receive mail at their residential college address. If a student recipient does not have a P.O. Box, the Campus Mail Service returns the mail addressed to the residential college back to sender. As a result, over the years, many students have lost their absentee ballots to the current system. This year, about a dozen students have contacted Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews’ office about the status of their absentee ballots for the upcoming midterm elections, according to Yale spokesman Tom Conroy.
“The University is delivering absentee ballots to students who do not have P.O. Boxes, and any ballots that are resent will be delivered,” Conroy told the News. “How U.S. mail is currently delivered to students is also under review.”
Many students expressed frustration that the University returned their absentee ballots without notifying them. On Monday, the News published an op-ed by Elizabeth Dolan ’21 who wrote that Yale has effectively disenfranchised voters by sending ballots back without informing students. Dolan told the News she became aware of this problem last week and notified Timothy Dwight College’s operations manager KC Mills, who then reached out to other Head of College offices and Yale administration to address the issue.
“It’s a huge oversight,” said Valentina Connell ’20. “You’re disenfranchising people who can’t afford post office boxes, or anyone who … puts their residential college address as their mailing address.”
Connell said she requested that her ballot be delivered to TD in early October, where she has received mail in the past, despite Yale’s policy. After reading Dolan’s op-ed, Connell said she “aggressively” emailed University President Peter Salovey’s office on Monday demanding that the administrators contact her registrar of voters in Salisbury, CT and track down her ballot. Goff-Crews sent a swift response informing Connell that she had contacted her town clerk and the ballot would be sent to New Haven overnight. Connell received her ballot yesterday.
Christina Lindsay ’21, who hails from Florida — a swing state — said she is frustrated that she has not yet received her absentee ballot, despite requesting that it be delivered to TD a few weeks ago.
“I’m disappointed in Yale, a school which seems to exalt free speech and active citizenship, for making it so much harder for students without P.O. boxes to vote,” Lindsay told the News. “Registering is already difficult enough for college students.”
Karen McGovern, senior administrative assistant at TD, told the News a similar situation happened before the 2016 presidential election, which, she noted, also upset many students.
Following student accusations that the University was disenfranchising would-be voters, Goff-Crews sent an email on Tuesday emphasizing the importance of voting. In the email, Goff-Crews noted that some students are still awaiting an absentee ballot, urging them to check the ballot’s status with their local registrar of voters or their respective secretary of state.
“Your vote matters,” Goff-Crews wrote in the email. “If you are eligible to vote, we strongly encourage you to register now and vote next Tuesday, Nov. 6.”
But students interviewed by the News said that the recent issues regarding absentee ballot delivery reflect a larger problem with the University’s mail services.
Harold Ekeh ’19, president of Every Vote Counts — a group that aims to increase student voter turnout — commended the University for working quickly to address the absentee ballot situation. Still, he said Yale should address larger inconsistencies in on-campus mail delivery.
“Yale has provided a temporary response to a larger problem,” said Yale College Democrats communications director Ananya Kumar-Banerjee ’21. “We look forward to hearing a large preventative plan so that this is not an issue [in] the future.”
In an interview with the News, Yale College Council President Saloni Rao ’20 said that the Yale administration and Yale College Council should have identified and prevented this problem beforehand. Rao said that “scrambling to solve the problem after the fact” was not a real solution.
Yale College Dean Marvin Chun told the News that the United States Postal Service and residential colleges do not have the capacity to distribute mail to all of their residents. The University is committed to students’ participation in elections, Chun added, and is working to find permanent solutions to the issues with Yale’s mail services in this regard.
“We obviously want students to receive their ballots,” Chun said. “Mail’s a pain; we have to figure it out.”
In order to receive USPS mail on campus, “all students are required by U.S. postal regulations to have a U.S. Post Office Box,” according to Yale’s website. However, USPS Strategic Communications Specialist Tiffany Forte told the News that no such regulation exists. Forte added that Yale has a “Caller Service” agreement with the New Haven Post Office due to the large volume of mail the University receives, which means that all mail addressed to a residential college is delivered to the Yale Student Receiving Center.
In an interview with the News, McGovern said that the University’s protocol for handling mail addressed to residential colleges is inconsistently followed. While some mail addressed to the colleges is taken to the Yale Mail Service — in compliance with the Caller Service agreement — some mail still gets dropped off at TD, McGovern said. Ekeh added that some first-year counselors still tell first years that they can receive mail at their residential colleges.
Students interviewed by the News also criticized Yale’s policy for disadvantaging lower-income students. Connell said the fact that Yale expects students to pay money for a P.O. Box, “because of some administrative rule, is just an unfair burden on students who can’t afford them.” This year, the yearly fee for a P.O. Box at the New Haven Post Office is $82.
Yale is the only school in the Ivy League that requires students to own P.O. boxes in order to receive USPS mail. Harvard has mail centers at each of its 12 Houses where students can pick up mail, while Princeton, Brown, Dartmouth, Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania all provide undergraduate students with individual mailboxes, according to the universities’ respective websites.
Serena Cho | firstname.lastname@example.org
Alice Park | email@example.com