The United States Postal Service, which has been a staple of American life since its original inception during the American Revolution, is seemingly in disarray. Billions in debt, and led by a political donor to President Trump who is seemingly changing the rules of the USPS to delay mail times ahead of an election which will rely on absentee ballots to be conducted in the face of COVID-19, it is fitting to fully assess the capacities and means at which the Postal Service will function leading up to this November’s General Election.
The head of the United States Postal Service, Louis DeJoy, testified in front of Congress Thursday on the status of multiple efforts being undergone by his subordinates. DeJoy, who first took office in June 2020, has, according to The New York Times, donated over $1.5 million to the 2016 and 2020 Presidential Campaigns of Donald Trump, and is the first Postmaster General in nearly 20 years who has not worked at the USPS prior to his designation.
During his congressional hearing Thursday, Postmaster DeJoy was scolded by Democrats and Republicans alike, who suggested he amend recently established policies that limit overtime and pay for postal workers, and mandate that backlogged mail is kept on-site until the next workday, rather than be shipped out. These policies are seen by many as potentially harmful to the upcoming general election, set for November 3, which will rely heavily on absentee and mail-in ballots due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
DeJoy has claimed these efforts are intended to deal with the impending financial crisis facing the institution. Reports detail that the Postal Service lost $2.2 billion in the second quarter of 2020. That adds on to an already massive debt that has plagued the Service for years.
Contrary to popular belief, the USPS rarely receives taxpayer funding allocated by Congress. For years, the Postal Service has been acting as a private company with direct congressional oversight. The binding need they have to deliver mail to all parts of the country, no matter how remote, combined with a law that mandates retiree benefits be paid decades in advance, has plunged the USPS into deep financial debt. DeJoy has said he seeks an infusion of at least $10 billion from Congress to maintain normal operations and improve delivery speeds at a time when, for medicines to fight coronavirus and absentee ballots for an election, it is more crucial than ever.
According to Johns Hopkins University, the United States has seen a whopping 4.9 million cases of COVID-19 to date, and a horrific 160,000 deaths from it. During the primary elections for different offices on the ballot this November, many states postponed their elections and transferred them to largely absentee-based elections. This trend ought to be noticed as November approaches, as COVID-19 has no clear end in sight. Cases are rising in many states, big and small, and students are about to return to school across the country, putting themselves and teachers in jeopardy.
Assuming this November‘s election takes place predominantly via absentee ballots, the USPS will be crucial in delivering the choices of voters to election officials for tabulation. Quick delivery and large capacity will be essential within the USPS to ensure a smooth, uncontroversial vote in the eyes of many. However, President Trump has regularly and enthusiastically attacked mail-in voting as fraudulent and untrustworthy, both in press briefings and on Twitter.
Over the last many months, as it has become apparent the upcoming election will take place largely by mail, President Trump has repeatedly and openly attacked vote-by-mail, particularly in Democratic states, as fraudulent, while supporting absentee balloting elsewhere. However, WTSP, a local affiliate of CBS, reported that “the terms [absentee and vote-by-mail] are different depending on which state you’re in, but the voting systems are essentially the same.”
According to one of the most in-depth analyses on fraud in absentee-based voting, the Heritage Foundation found that there were 14 attempted cases of voter fraud out of 15.5 million ballots cast by absentee in Oregon over the past few decades. Reuters reports that any US election is hard to directly tamper with, in terms of balloting, due to the decentralized format of American elections. Elections tend to be administered at the county level, and with over 3000 counties in the United States with a wide variety of races and ballot designs, it is incredibly difficult to directly manipulate results.
The Postal Service, under the direction of an inexperienced Postmaster DeJoy, faces a crisis of lessened deliveries, causing diminished income, in the face of a global pandemic that requires the USPS shift into overdrive to carry everything- from medicine to ballots- in an efficient manner. Without proper funding or resources- from the American people or Congress- the USPS is on a road that is set to lead to mass disenfranchisement and the sewing of distrust into this November’s election. With the clock quickly ticking to midnight, the USPS faces systemic troubles that will not only affect its 630,000 employees but the over 150 million Americans relying on it to help them exercise their right to vote.
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