Trump goes postal

Photo by VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images

In politics, things can change quickly. But, as of now, Trump is trailing Biden in the polls by a significant margin. And the president is lashing out, claiming mail-in voting will make November's election "INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT" and suggesting it should be delayed until more people can safely vote in person. 

Trump, however, lacks the authority to delay November's election. He does, however, have the power to undermine the ability of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) to facilitate mail-in voting. And that's what Trump is doing. 

It started in May when the Trump administration installed Louis DeJoy, a top Trump fundraiser and Republican operative, as the new Postmaster General. DeJoy has little familiarity with the USPS, but he has "given more than $2 million to the Trump campaign or Republican causes since 2016," including "including a $210,600 contribution to the Trump Victory Fund on Feb. 19." Before assuming the role of Postmaster General, DeJoy was "the finance chairman for the RNC convention."

Upon assuming office, DeJoy immediately took actions to degrade the ability of the USPS to efficiently facilitate mail-in voting — or deliver any mail on time. These actions could invalidate the ballots of millions of Americans, undermine confidence in the election results, and provide a pretext for Trump to reject the result of the vote. 

USPS employees instructed to leave mail "on the workroom floor"

Some of DeJoy's changes were officially implemented on July 10. According to an internal memo, all USPS employees were told that "late trips" and "extra trips" are no longer authorized. Effectively, USPS workers would no longer be allowed to use overtime to ensure that mail is delivered on time. Without that flexibility, it is virtually impossible for the USPS to deliver the mail on time. The memo makes clear that, as a result, mail that was due to be delivered will be left on the floor:

One aspect of these changes that may be difficult for employees is that — temporarily — we may see mail left behind or mail on the workroom floor or docks (in P&DCs), which is not typical.

Further, after DeJoy took over post offices across the country began "slashing their hours—including during the busiest times of day—with little notice as yet another abrupt cost-saving measure." In West Virginia, about a dozen post offices posted notices that they would be imminently closing. When Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) wrote a letter, noting that such closures would be a violation of federal law, a USPS spokesperson said it was all a misunderstanding, and the branches would not close. 

The American Postal Workers Union blasted DeJoy's actions, noting that these actions were made "without consultation or input from any of the postal unions, postal customers or mailing community."

These actions are already severely degrading mail delivery. "Neighborhoods across the Philadelphia region are experiencing significant delays in receiving their mail, with some residents going upwards of three weeks without packages and letters, leaving them without medication, paychecks, and bills," The Philadelphia Inquirer reports

Across the country, DeJoy's changes "have resulted in at least a two-day delay in scattered parts of the country, even for express mail, according to multiple postal workers and union leaders." The problems are likely to get worse over time. Mail is piling up in post offices, and without the ability to work overtime, "the logjam is worsening without an end in sight." 

How a debilitated USPS threatens the integrity of the 2020 election

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 34 states allow any voter to mail in their vote, including five states that conduct ballots primarily by mail. 

Among the states that require an excuse, all allow people who will be out of their county on election day to vote absentee. And many of these states allow people over 65 or people who are working all-day to vote by mail. 

With the coronavirus still widely circulating in most communities, voting-by-mail is the best and safest option for tens of millions of Americans to vote. But its an option requires a functional USPS to work. 

Thirty-four states require the completed absentee ballot to be received by election day to be counted. (Some states will still count votes received after election day if they are postmarked before election day.) So if the mail is delayed by several days, valid ballots could be trashed. We've already seen this happen in primaries in Wisconsin and California before the worst problems at the USPS had begun:

In Wisconsin, 2,659 ballots that were returned after the April 13 deadline for the spring primary were not counted due to their late arrival, according to the state election commission. In California, 70,330 ballots were disqualified because they missed the deadline, according to an AP analysis.

In Michigan, which has its primary August 4, "election administrators said they have fielded complaints from voters who had not yet received their ballots as of this week."

Even ballots that arrive right before the deadline could create problems. Despite claims to the contrary, all states make efforts to verify the legitimacy of mail-in ballots. Thirty-one states conduct signature verification for every absentee ballot. (The instructions for verifying a signature in Colorado runs 20 pages.) This takes time. 

Many states allow mail-in ballots to be processed prior to election day. But ballots that arrive at the last minute cannot be processed in advance. This may mean lengthy delays in finding out the outcome in some states, particularly if the margins are close. Trump has signaled that he will use any delay to undermine the legitimacy of the result. 

Trump is encouraging his supporters to vote in person. 

How to make sure your mail-in vote counts

Despite the issues with the USPS, voting by mail is still the safest and best way for many Americans to vote during the pandemic. To vote by mail, you must be registered to vote. Here are some simple steps you can take to maximize the chances that your mail-in ballot is counted:

  • Request your mail-in ballot as soon as possible. Twenty-three states allow you to request mail-in ballots online. The sooner you request a mail-in ballot, the sooner you'll get one. Depending on where you live, you can receive your mail-in ballot up to two months before election day. You can find out how to request a mail-in ballot in your state by visiting your state election board website or HERE

  • After your receive your absentee ballot, fill out your absentee ballot as soon as you can. Make sure to read the instructions carefully and fill it out completely, including a signature. 

  • If you can, consider returning your mail-in ballot without relying on the USPS. Eleven states allow you to return your mail-in ballot to a special dropbox. Arizona, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Kansas, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Utah, and Washington allow you to drop off your mail-in ballot at any in-person voting location in your county, including early voting locations. 

  • If you need to return your mail-in ballot by USPS, do it as soon as possible. If you mail back your absentee ballot a few weeks before election day, it's much more likely to be counted on election day.

You can get more information about voting in your state, and how to protect your vote, HERE

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