Republicans have been the champions of voter suppression in different forms….
With Donald Trump in serious trouble could he be seeking to use the US Mail system to also stifle the vote?
This year, owing to the coronavirus pandemic, election technocrats face intense problems of a new kind, largely due to an unexpected surge in the use of mailed ballots. Absentee voting exploded during the spring primary season; in Wisconsin, in April, a million voters sent ballots through the mail, a fivefold increase over 2016. Growth on that scale is all but certain to continue into November. The ways that legal votes may fail to be counted are as diverse as the jurisdictions that will process the ballots, yet there is one big national institution that will play a decisive part: the United States Postal Service. And there are many reasons to doubt that the service is ready to backstop American democracy in this time of peril.
In theory, elections by mail are good for the Postal Service—they are a source of revenue and a prominent reminder of the value of its mission of universal service, which has been under assault for years from advocates of privatization. The pandemic has already made obvious the value of a service that still delivers mail reliably—even if unprofitably—to the most isolated rural households. “The Postal Service has never been more important in modern times than it is today,” Devin Leonard, the author of “Neither Snow Nor Rain,” a lively history of the institution, told me. “You can’t have stay-at-home orders and not have efficient and equal home delivery” of medicine and other essential goods. Now, facing a Presidential election that is likely to be heavily conducted through the mail, he said, “You need a governmental postal service to do that.”
Some of the problems with election by mail arise from the interplay between dated state election laws and slower mail-delivery times. Inspired by successes in places such as Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and Utah, some states began expanding options for mail-in voting even before the pandemic. Other states, such as Ohio, quickly pivoted to mail in response to the virus. Yet too many of the mail-voting regimes did not adequately account for the fact that, during the Obama Administration, to cope with deteriorating finances caused by punitive congressional accounting mandates and a decline in traditional mail volumes, the Postal Service formally adopted standards allowing slower delivery of first-class mail—in some cases, taking up to five days.
This year, in battleground states that do not have a postmark rule, such as Pennsylvania, groups aligned with the Democratic Party are suing to insist that they adopt one. But that is not the only problem with state laws. Some states also contemplate implausibly short timelines to send out absentee ballots and receive completed ones. Georgia and Michigan, for example, assume that it will require as few as four days to mail out a requested absentee ballot and then receive a voter’s completed one.
Compounding all this, the new Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, a Trump donor, recently mandated changes in postal operations, designed to cut back on overtime by postal workers, even if it means that some mail will not be delivered for another day.
The changes are part of an efficiency drive, yet it is hard to divorce DeJoy’s management choices from his partisan profile or from Trump’s contempt for the Post Office; earlier this year, the President dismissed it as “a joke.” Trump has sought repeatedly to delegitimize the November vote by claiming falsely that mail voting is susceptible to significant fraud. His demagoguery and the appointment of DeJoy raise obvious questions about whether the management of voting by mail will be manipulated in service of Trump’s reëlection. House Democrats, led by Representative Carolyn Maloney, recently sent a letter about the reported operating changes to DeJoy, complaining that “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.” (The results in Maloney’s own primary, in June, have been delayed for more than a month, owing to problems in counting mailed-in ballots.)