Numbers from local county elections offices showed tens of thousands of absentee ballots had not been returned in the four major DFW counties by the morning of Election Day, raising questions about whether some close local races could take longer to call as counties wait for more mail ballots to arrive.
In Texas, absentee ballots can be accepted until 5 p.m. the day after the election, as long as they were postmarked by Election Day.
On Tuesday, a federal judge ordered the U.S. Postal Service to sweep all mail facilities to make sure any missing ballots are delivered.
The Postal Service said in a statement Wednesday afternoon that an inspection of all facilities had been conducted and that it was not aware of any ballots unaccounted for within the postal system across the country.
The latest news from around North Texas.
"We employed extraordinary measures to deliver ballots directly to local boards of elections. When this occurs, by design, these ballots bypass certain processing operations and do not receive a final scan. Instead, they are expedited directly to the boards of elections", said USPS spokesman David Partenheimer.
"We remain in close contact with state and local boards of elections and we do not currently have any open issues", Partenheimer said.
In Dallas County 30,000 ballots, about a third of all absentee ballots the county sent to voters, had not been returned as of the morning of Election Day. But, it was unclear how many of those voters decided to vote in-person instead. Local elections officials said Wednesday they were still anticipating additional deliveries of ballots ahead of the Wednesday evening Texas deadline.
In recent months, NBC 5 Investigates has worked with other NBC Owned Television Stations across the country, testing the U.S. Postal Service to see how often mail is being delivered on time. Our most recent test showed a nationwide slowdown in mail service in recent weeks.
Some voters who never received their absentee ballots have contacted NBC 5 Investigates in recent days, including one young Dallas County voter who was not able to vote after her ballot did not arrive.
“The fact that I’m not able to do that is really disappointing for me,” said Alexandra Breazeale of Richardson.
Breazeale is away at college in North Carolina and requested her absentee ballot in September.
When the ballot didn't show up in her mailbox, she said she contacted Dallas County and was told it would be mailed on October 23, 11 days before Election Day.
By Nov. 3, it still hadn't arrived.
“I know democracy isn't supposed to look like this. It was to be a lot easier to be able to vote and voice your right,” said Breazeale.
With the clock ticking, about 30,000 Dallas County absentee ballots still had not been returned as of Tuesday morning.
In Collin County, more than 9,000 absentee voters had not returned their ballots – and those voters had not voted in-person Tuesday morning.
But elections officials in Collin County said the postal service continued to deliver more throughout the day and that they have not seen widespread problems with the mail.
“I don't think we've experienced anything that was maybe anticipated to be experienced, although there are some situations that have arisen where a voter didn't get their ballot,” said Collin County Elections director, Bruce Sherbet.
In Tarrant County, the most recent numbers released over the weekend showed about 23,000 outstanding absentee ballots.
As of Monday, Denton County reported about 8,000.
In October, NBC 5 did a nationwide test of the mail service that showed only 79% of letters arrived in the one to three business days the post office promises.
A drop from 88% in September.
Leaving Breazeale to wonder if her ballot is simply stuck in the mail.
“I knew that was probably going to be something to consider when I was waiting for my ballot, but I just didn't think it would be this long,” said Breazeale
The postal service said it moves ballots faster than the letters we sent in our NBC test and that they have all hands on deck to ensure that ballots reach their destinations on-time.
NBC 5 asked Dallas County why some ballots like Breazeale’s were sent out so close to Election Day, but a county spokesman did not respond. In many counties printing and mailing of ballots was delayed this fall by a Texas court decision that placed two Green Party candidates on the ballot very late in the process.
Elections officials advise voters with absentee ballots to drive to the county elections office. Or, take it to a polling place before 7 p.m. on Election Day and surrender the ballot and vote in-person. They warn it’s way too late to put a ballot in the mail.
If you’ve had issues on Election Day please contact NBC 5 Investigates at: Investigate@nbcdfw.com