Millions of mail ballots not yet returned in key states

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

FILE - In this Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, file photo, an election worker places a vote-by-mail ballot into an official ballot drop box outside of an early voting site, in Miami. Just days before the presidential election, millions of mail-in ballots have still not been returned in key battleground states. Many of those are due in county offices by Tuesday, Nov. 3, but the latest Postal Service delivery data suggests its too late for voters to drop their ballots in the mail. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

ATLANTA – Just days before the presidential election, millions of mail ballots have yet to be returned in key battleground states, and election officials warn that time is running out for voters who want to avoid a polling place on Election Day.

At least 35 million mail ballots had been returned or accepted as of early Wednesday, according to data collected by The Associated Press. That surpasses the 33.3 million total mail ballots returned during the 2016 election, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

Yet an estimated 1.9 million ballots were still outstanding in Florida, along with 962,000 in Nevada, 850,000 in Michigan and 1 million in Pennsylvania. In most states, the deadline for ballots to be received is Election Day.

“Don’t wait until Election Day,” Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf implored voters this week. “Hand-delivering your own ballot now will give you the peace of mind that your vote will be counted, and your voice will be heard in this historic election.”

Combined with early, in-person voting, at least 71.5 million votes have already been cast, more than the total number of advance votes four years ago.

Many states made it easier to request a mail ballot this year amid the coronavirus pandemic and concerns about crowded polling places on Election Day.

One challenge has been ensuring that voters who are not used to voting absentee return their ballots in time to be counted. Compounding concerns are mail delivery delays that have persisted across the country. Delivery data from the U.S. Postal Service does not offer much assurance that these ballots will reach their destinations if they have not already been mailed.

Throughout the fall, as ballots moved through the postal system, the agency has consistently missed its goal to have more than 95% of first-class mail delivered within five days. In the week that ended Oct. 16, the most recently available weekly figures, the Postal Service reported a national on-time delivery rate of 85.5%. Postal districts in many presidential battleground states failed to reach even that mark.