The mailbox outside the Highlandtown home that Nick Frisone shares with his mother was mysteriously full on Saturday, the lid propped open by two large envelopes. Frisone’s confusion only grew as he read the return address — Baltimore City Board of Elections — and then, plastered across the bottom in bold letters: “OFFICIAL BALLOT INSIDE.”

With his vote just cast in the July primaries and the November general election still months away, Frisone, 33, felt a sneaking suspicion grow as he rushed to unseal the envelope addressed to him.

Sure enough, the ballot inside presented several options Frisone could choose from for president of the United States — among them, Donald J. Trump and Joe Biden.

The long-lost mail-in ballots Frisone and his mother had requested in 2020 had finally arrived, nearly two years late.

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“There’s no rips, there’s no tears,” said Frisone. “Straight off the press.”

In September of 2020, Frisone received an email from the United States Postal Service’s “informed delivery” service notifying him that his and his mother’s ballots were scheduled for delivery. But they never arrived. Frisone asked around and learned that his cousin and his girlfriend who live down the block didn’t receive theirs, either. Neither did several other neighbors.

They didn’t let the lost ballots deter them: Frisone requested a new ballot that he submitted in person at a drop box. His neighbors requested new mail-in ballots. But they were troubled by the ballots’ disappearance, especially during such a pivotal election year.

“There was always a part of me that was like, where did that ballot go? Because it’s not just ours, it’s other people’s ballots, too,” said Frisone, who said he now prefers to vote in person.

Nick Frisone's long lost 2020 ballot after arriving in the mail two years late. (Shan Wallace)

On Saturday, Frisone’s neighbors were just as stunned to find missing ballots in their mailboxes, too.

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“Like, we’re in the midterms now, so you know, we’re kind of past that,” Frisone said.

In response to an inquiry from The Baltimore Banner, the Postal Service identified the history of the missing ballots.

“The Postal Service discovered a tray of undelivered mail in a Baltimore facility last Friday, Aug. 5. The tray’s mail was from year 2020 and contained what appeared to be 26 blank ballots mailed from the Baltimore City Board of Election to addresses with a Baltimore ZIP Code,” wrote Tom Ouellette, a spokesperson for the Postal Service. “We deeply regret the late delivery of these mailpieces.”

The recovery of the ballots comes months after an audit by the United States Postal Service Office of the Inspector General found extensive issues with the Postal Services’ operations in the Baltimore area between October 2019 to July 2021.

The Baltimore area ranked second in the country for missing mail inquiries during that time, the inspector general found, with over 28 missing mail inquiries per 1,000 addresses, compared with the national average of 8.5. Some delivery areas reported over 37.1 inquiries per 1,000 addresses.

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By the time the audit came out in November, the Postal Service had already taken steps to solve the missing mail problem. In September, the agency had named Lora McLucas as the Postal Service’s district manager for Maryland, and Eric Gilbert as the new Baltimore postmaster.

Ouellete said the Postal Service is reviewing processes and procedures with all employees and is in close communication with the Baltimore City election board ahead of the general election in November.

Armstead Jones, election director at the Baltimore City Board of Elections, said he wasn’t surprised by the news of the missing ballots.

“We see post office challenges all the time,” said Jones. “It speaks for itself: postmarked 2020.”

A couple days after he received the ballot, Frisone found another surprise in the mail: a long-since paid-off credit card bill due October 20, 2020.

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“Those pieces of mail — they clearly had some kind of journey,” said Frisone.

He plans to fill the 2020 ballot out like he did the replacement ballot and frame it.

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