The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is under intense partisan scrutiny from both President TrumpDonald John TrumpWhite House sued over lack of sign language interpreters at coronavirus briefings Wife blames Trump, lack of masks for husband’s coronavirus death in obit: ‘May Karma find you all’ Trump authorizes reduced funding for National Guard coronavirus response through 2020 MORE and Democratic lawmakers, who are warning the agency is ill-equipped to handle the tens of millions of mailed-in ballots expected to be sent for the November election.
Many states have moved to expand access to mail balloting in an effort to reduce in-person voting amid the coronavirus pandemic, leading to growing concerns that Postal Service delays could draw the vote count out for days or weeks past Election Day.
There are fears that ballots that are late, missing or disqualified for small irregularities will lead to lawsuits and questions about the integrity of the elections.
The coronavirus pandemic has hampered post office operations and led to delays in mail delivery. The Postal Service faces serious financial pressures, and Congress is at odds over whether to provide additional assistance, even as it handles more shipments.
Trump has made unsubstantiated claims about widespread fraud and warned that Democratic efforts to expand access to mail voting will lead to chaos and delays. Democrats are accusing Trump of dismantling the Postal Service in an effort to make it more difficult to vote by mail.
“The ability of the U.S.P.S. to function knows no party, you can’t tell if the ballot is Republican or Democrat when it’s in an envelope,” said Susan Dzieduszycka-Suinat, the president of the U.S. Vote Foundation. “We believe this is a bipartisan issue of great concern.”
The Trump campaign has made the vote counting delays from New York’s June primary the centerpiece of their arguments against expanded access to mail voting.
New York sent absentee ballots to all voters after deciding against canceling its primary.
But state elections officials did not have the infrastructure in place at the time to deal with the massive amount of returns. Two House primary races still have not been called, including a nail-biter involving House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn Bosher MaloneyTrump suggests revote in New York congressional primary amid slow ballot count House committee requests hearing with postmaster general amid mail-in voting concerns Democrats subpoena top aides to Pompeo MORE (D-N.Y.).
There was confusion within the Postal Service about whether to postmark ballots sent in prepaid return envelopes, leading to thousands of ballots being disqualified. Other ballots were mailed out at the last minute, making it impossible for voters to fill them out and return them on time.
A federal judge ruled late Monday that some of the disqualified ballots should be counted, although Maloney’s narrow lead in the race appears to be safe.
“Adding tens of millions of additional mail pieces to the mix—all at once, in the key weeks before a general election—is placing the integrity of the election in serious danger,” said Trump campaign spokeswoman Thea McDonald. “The postal system isn’t designed for this, and Democrats are making it worse.”
Trump on Tuesday endorsed absentee voting in Florida, a key battleground state where Republicans are in power. Florida has extensive experience with absentee voting and utilizes bar code technology and machines for quick counting.
In Nevada, the president is promising “immediate litigation” after the Democratic-controlled legislature passed a bill this week to mail ballots in pre-paid return envelopes directly to every voter.
The president’s critics are accusing him of deliberately undermining efforts to expand mail balloting by dismantling the Postal Service.
Trump recently tapped Louis DeJoy, a top GOP donor, to be postmaster general.
There have been media reports about leaked memos calling for overtime restrictions and changes to mail sorting that would lead to widespread delays.
“There’s real concern about slower mail delivery, and part of it is everything surrounding the pandemic, but it’s also the deliberate actions the Trump administration is taking to slow down mail delivery,” said Michal McDonald, associate professor of political science at University of Florida. “We know more Democrats are going to vote by mail and you can infer from Trump’s remarks about mail balloting that he wishes to cripple it.”
Maloney, the Oversight chairwoman, has invited DeJoy to testify before Congress about the reported changes in September.
“While these changes in a normal year would be drastic, in a presidential election year when many states are relying heavily on absentee mail-in ballots, increases in mail delivery timing would impair the ability of ballots to be received and counted in a timely manner—an unacceptable outcome for a free and fair election,” Democrats on the committee wrote to DeJoy.
The Postal Service responded saying the media reports were exaggerated and that the leaked memos came from low-level staffers and were not official policy.
USPS general counsel Thomas Marshall told the committee the Postal Service is working closely with state and local elected officials to prepare for the expected surge in mail voting.
Still, a USPS inspector general report released last month identified “potential nationwide issues” around integrating Postal Service processes with the processes of local election officials, warning the disparities “could impact future elections.”
The inspector general investigated the April primary in Wisconsin, which took place amid a flurry of legal actions and fierce debate over whether the primary should go on at a time when the nation was grappling with the new reality of the coronavirus pandemic.
The report found that tubs of absentee ballots were requested but never delivered. The Postal Service returned some absentee ballots without explaining why they were never delivered. Several hundred ballots were mailed by voters but did not receive postmarks and so were not counted.
The report also warned that more than a dozen states have deadlines to request absentee ballots that are too close to the election. Democrats have initiated lawsuits in many of those states to ensure that ballots postmarked by Election Day are counted.
Those battles are playing out at a time when the USPS is grappling with the real-world dangers of the virus.
Art Sackler, who leads the Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service, said that thousands of postal workers have become sick and some have died from COVID-19. The Postal Service has rushed to sanitize its 31,000 facilities and to provide personal protective equipment to its workforce.
“It’s inevitably impacted mail delivery,” Sackler said. “It’s both a source of delay and of substantial additional costs.”
The years of red ink at the Postal Service have been the source of partisan fights in Washington, as lawmakers and the Treasury Department dig in over how much money to send the agency.
Marshall, the general counsel for the USPS, said in his letter to the House Oversight and Reform Committee that the Postal Service is in “dire financial condition.” He alluded to imminent cutbacks, saying the agency would be “taking steps to enhance operational efficiency and reduce costs.”
The Postal Service has stayed afloat during the pandemic due to an increase in package shipping and its lucrative arrangement with Amazon.
Trump has alleged that Amazon is taking advantage of the USPS and demanded that the Postal Service raise shipping rates.
The Postal Service this year requested $89 billion from Congress in direct appropriations and debt forgiveness.
The $2.2 trillion Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act provided a $10 billion loan to the Postal Service, but Treasury implemented strict terms and conditions on the money.
More recently, the House-passed $3 trillion Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act included $25 billion in direct appropriations.
The Senate Republican plan does not include any additional funding.