Snow, rain, heat, or darkness may not stop postal workers—but coronavirus and mail-in ballots might. The United States Postal Service is smack in the middle of a voting debate. Will the service survive the election?
The USPS has roots reaching back to first Postmaster General Benjamin Franklin and the U.S. Constitution. Article I, Section 8, Clause 7, empowers Congress “to establish Post Offices and Post Roads.” Debates over exactly what that means are ongoing. But most experts believe the USPS can choose routes, erect buildings, and deliver and control mail.
Delivery and control are coming into play this election year especially. With the rise of the pandemic, mail-in ballots have exploded in popularity. Some states have seen demand increase fivefold or more. Election officials say it’s possible half of all voters—or more—will cast ballots by mail in November.
A few states—Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington—have universal mail voting (ballots mailed to every registered voter). Several others will begin mail voting in November.
In states without universal mail voting, applications for mail-in ballots arrive by mail. Voters return them by mail. Then voters receive the actual ballots by mail, and return them, again, by mail.
Some groups want to stop states from switching over to mail-in ballots. The groups say they want to protect elections and reduce fraud.
“There is a serious push to send a ballot to every registrant,” says Jason Snead, head of the Honest Elections Project. “I think there is a serious concern that so many registrations are outdated and ballots are being mailed out at great public expense to voters who may be deceased or have moved away or are ineligible to vote.”
But the trouble at the USPS gets worse.
The agency has been losing money for years. In June, Louis DeJoy took over as the new postmaster general. President Donald Trump tasked him with trying to make money instead of losing it.
To do that, DeJoy cut overtime, late deliveries, postal boxes, and other expenses. The result has been a national mail slowdown. Delayed deliveries might be fine for books and hair products . . . but ballots?
Uncounted ballots would mean serious trouble—however the election swings.
Some lawmakers want to give money to the post office to fix the problems. But lawmakers can’t agree on how much and for what.
DeJoy says President Trump’s attacks on mail-in ballots are “not helpful.” He insists his agency can process this year’s mail-in ballots. Still, he’s urging voters to request mail-in ballots at least 15 days before the election and to mail them back at least seven days prior to the November 3 Election Day.