Issues with ResMail and mail delays prevent students from voting in 2022 midterm election


Carmen Phillips-Alvarez

Students at Northeastern are assigned a mailbox in August. Some students ordered their mail-in ballots months before the midterm election in November, but did not receive them in time to vote.

Sonel Cutler, campus editor

The 2022 midterms were seen as a long-anticipated “referendum on the party in power” — a bellwether in which Republicans could gauge support for the looming 2024 presidential race and potentially flip seats across the nation. 

National turnout was high — almost half  the nation cast a vote for the highest office in their state. College-aged voters also flocked to the polls in record numbers — the midterms saw the “second-highest youth voter turnout in almost three decades.”

This was not the case for some Northeastern students, who were unable to vote in the midterms after encountering challenges with Residential Mail, or ResMail, the university’s official mail system.

As election day approached, second-year data science and math combined major Lon Pierson checked his Northeastern mailbox in his residence hall almost daily. He had ordered an absentee ballot from his home state of Maryland months before Nov. 8, and was actively tracking his ballot on his county voting website. Even after the website reported that it had been sent, his mailbox remained empty. 

“It had been delivered for over a week,” Pierson said.  “It was a very long time in which ResMail had my ballot and just didn’t give it to me. … I was really peeved about it.”

Finally, on election day, Pierson checked his mailbox in West Village C for his ballot one more time — and it was there. In Maryland, mail-in ballots are counted as long as they are postmarked by Nov. 8. Unfortunately for Pierson, Northeastern’s mail run that day had already happened. 

“I finally got it on election day, and they had already collected the mail that day,” Pierson said. “So … I filled it out and I put it in the [drop-box], but they still haven’t counted it. And, obviously, everything’s already been called, it’s not gonna get counted because it’s gonna be stamped by the next day.”

Frederick County, where Pierson votes, is a historically Republican-voting district that only recently flipped Democratic in the 2020 election. As a result, Pierson felt it was important for him to vote, especially for candidates in local elected positions. 

“2020 was the first time that Frederick had voted blue since the ‘50s,” Pierson said. “So it was a really big deal and I was kind of hoping that the same thing would happen again this year. I was just thinking, how many of the people that made that happen [in 2020] are in college right now and either forgot to request a mail-in ballot or did request one and just weren’t able to get it back in time?”  

Pierson was one of multiple students who told The News they had issues obtaining their mail-in ballot through ResMail and were unsuccessful in their efforts to vote in the 2022 midterms. 

Rebecca Koblish, a second-year politics, philosophy, and economics major had issues physically accessing her mailbox, and was frustrated by ResMail’s lack of action. 

The previous resident of Koblish’s apartment at 407 Huntington had taken the key to the mailbox, and her Resident Assistant, or RA, informed her there were no backup keys. 

“I messaged my RA and was like ‘hey, we think this girl took our key, do you have the backup key?’ He was like ‘actually, your apartment is one of the four that we don’t have backup keys for, so I can’t get into your mailbox,’” Koblish said. 

She was instructed to message the Residence Director, who in turn told her there was nothing to be done except to contact Facilities Services to make new keys. She was also told to contact ResMail directly. 

“ResMail says that they reply to any email within 24 hours,” Koblish said. “I [contacted them] the Wednesday before the election, six days before the election. … This is my last ditch effort to get my ballot in, and ResMail never emailed me back. … It made it impossible because my mail-in ballot was, in fact, in my mailbox. It was there the whole time — and I couldn’t get it.”

Hailing from Pennsylvania, a swing state, Koblish felt that her vote in the off-year election was especially valuable. Like Pierson, she also recognized the importance of local election participation.

“A lot of important changes come through local governments, so I also find it super important to vote in off-years … because that’s when you make changes that more directly impact your community,” Koblish said.

It would’ve been Koblish’s first time voting in a national election — something she had been looking forward to since she missed the age requirement to vote in the 2020 election by six months. 

“It was so important to me to be able to vote because …  I wasn’t 18 for the 2020 election. So I finally get to vote in a super important election and was very, very excited. … It felt discouraging that I tried so hard. I truly tried so hard to be able to vote and it just did not happen.”

The ResMail FAQ page directs students that want to send out mail to use the mail drop-box in their residence hall — these mailboxes are affixed with a sign that reads, “Mail Pick-up/Drop-off. Scheduled run, 2:00pm.” 

Second-year health sciences major Madison Frost was under the impression ResMail shipped out mail daily at 2 p.m., as conveyed on the sign above the mail drop-box in her residential hall, West Village A. She had placed the ballot for her home state of New Hampshire in the drop box a week before the election and was confused when her county’s voting website reported that it hadn’t arrived. 

“It’s about the week before, and it never arrives in my hometown,” Frost said. “I looked in the little mailbox, and I saw that there were a couple things in there so I was like, ‘Did people just put this in today or is this accumulation?’ So I emailed them.”

ResMail responded to Frost’s email quickly, informing her that mail deliveries went out weekly, not daily, meaning she had missed the delivery and there wouldn’t be another one before election day. 

“They definitely did not send it out in time and it did not get there, so they never got my ballot,” Frost said. “I definitely know that ResMail has its problems sometimes. I just wish they were more transparent on how the mailing thing works so that I wasn’t just wasting my time.”

Anticipating the very problems Frost faced, second-year biochemistry major Anna Ducroiset took preemptive measures. Ducroiset, from New York, successfully mailed her ballot in on time to her county because she chose not to send it through ResMail. 

“I fill[ed] out my ballot and I’m like, ‘how does the mail drop off work? Is it going to be safe in the university mail drop off? Or do I have to go to a USPS mailbox?’ … I could not find resources for any of that,” Ducroiset said.  “I’ve also never mailed a letter out from Northeastern before, so I didn’t know what to do.”

Ducroiset did a Google search for mailboxes in Boston and dropped her ballot in a USPS box on the day of the election. Still, she was surprised that Northeastern had not provided students any guidance or encouragement to make voting easier. 

“They literally could have sent out an email saying ‘return your ballots here,’” Ducroiset said. “[The] university should have ballot dropbox locations because there’s 20,000 people here. … I understand that would be a lot for ResMail to handle. But I think voting is more important than the card your mom sends you, so I think they should be able to handle that.”

Ducroiset pointed to the increasing importance of higher youth voter turnout as another reason Northeastern should be helping inform students how to send in their ballot. 

“Every poll, every data set says it’s Gen Z that came out and voted,” she said. “When Northeastern makes it hard to vote, it’s really stifling.”

Some students, including Ducroiset, Koblish and Pierson, believe ResMail should have a different system to help streamline mail-in ballot delivery during election season. 

“I think it’s very obvious to tell when something is a ballot,” Koblish said. “Especially if it’s coming in October, November, you’re gonna know that it’s a mail in-ballot. … There should be more direct ways to get people their ballots because it is super, super important for people to be able to fulfill their civic duty and be able to participate in democracy as it’s supposed to be.” 

Pierson expressed a similar desire for a mail system that prioritizes sending and delivering ballots. 

“They had [my ballot] for almost a week and just never gave it to me until it was basically useless,” he said. “Show some priority or just speed up the whole system in general because it’s a little unacceptable in my opinion.”

Northeastern spokesperson Marirose Sartoretto pointed to nationwide USPS delays around the time of the election, reporting that there were documented instances in which it took 14-15 days from the date a county mailed a ballot to when ResMail received it. 

“First-class USPS mail is not trackable so there is no way ballots would be able to be tracked,” Sartoretto wrote in a Dec. 7 email to The News. “All first-class mail is processed the same way and is distributed to students’ mailboxes the day it is received or the next day depending on when it is received from USPS.” 

Koblish reiterated that, to ensure Northeastern is a civically-engaged school, ResMail must make changes to make voting a more accessible and efficient process for students.

“If we’re afforded these opportunities to do mail-in voting, we should be encouraged by our institution and aided by our institution,” Koblish said. “If I do everything in my power to [vote], I feel like they should also do everything in their power to help facilitate their students to use their voices.”