The 2020 election could depend on the US Postal Service overcoming its own Postmaster General

The 2020 election could depend on the US Postal Service overcoming its own Postmaster General
Source: Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

With November 3 rapidly approaching and the COVID-19 pandemic still raging in the United States, it increasingly appears that the US Postal Service will play a pivotal role in the presidential election. States are turning toward mail-in voting as an alternative to in-person voting, even as President Donald Trump pushes the dubious belief that mail-in voting is rife for corruption.

Trump’s criticisms of mail-in voting could be a self-fulfilling prophecy, with the US Postal Service (USPS) currently being underfunded. Trump, who has repeatedly claimed that the post office is unprofitable and therefore ineffectual, potentially has a well-positioned ally in his campaign against the institution: Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.

Trump’s opposition to mail-in voting

Trump has made it abundantly clear that he expects the 2020 election to be plagued by corruption and errors. Though the White House has since retreated from this assertion, Trump tweeted on July 30 that he thought the election may need to be delayed in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trump has also repeatedly attacked mail-in voting, saying it will be a “catastrophic disaster” that will result in fake ballots being printed by “foreign countries.” Trump’s unsupported claims that mail-in voting would increase election fraud resulted in Twitter fact-checking one of his tweets for the first time back in May.

Earlier this month, in response to the pandemic, Nevada approved a measure that would make mail-in ballots available to all registered voters. The Trump administration has threatened to sue over the measure in the hope of blocking it, with Trump saying the “illegal late night coup” that allowed mail-in ballots had “made it impossible for Republicans to win the state.”

It’s not clear why Trump believes mail-in voting would prevent Republicans from winning in Nevada, but it isn’t the first time Trump has suggested increased voter turnout would hurt his party.

Despite his opposition to voting by mail, Trump and his wife, Melania, Vice President Mike Pence and countless others within his administration have regularly voted by mail. Five states already do all-mail elections while another 21 states allow smaller elections to be done by mail. Despite such widespread mail voting, there is little evidence that voting by mail leads to increased voter fraud.

On Tuesday, Trump unexpectedly changed his tone to tweet his support for “vote by mail” in Florida, seemingly acknowledging that absentee voting ballots are for all practical purposes the same as mail-in ballots.

Critics have alleged that Trump’s change of heart with regards to Florida, a battleground state vital to Trump’s reelection chances, is a sign that Trump’s mail fraud allegations may have been scaring off his elderly supporters in the state from voting by mail. In the 2016 election, Republicans in Florida requested more absentee ballots than Democrats.

Notwithstanding his Florida tweet, there is no indication that the Trump administration has shifted its opposition to mail voting nationwide.

Trump’s war with the Postal Service

If Trump cannot prevent mail-in ballots, an election largely completed through the mail could still be hampered by an underfunded Postal Service.

Trump has long made his issues with the USPS known. He has advocated for privatizing the agency, insisting it would be more profitable and adaptable if it were free from government control. A Trump-created task force proposed massive cuts to the organization and its 600,000 federal employees.

Trump has also placed the USPS in the middle of his ongoing feud with Amazon and its billionaire founder, Jeff Bezos. Trump has argued that the USPS doesn’t charge Amazon enough for providing delivery services and should increase its prices.

Most recently, Trump put conditions on the US$10 billion loan to the USPS that was part of the US$2 trillion coronavirus aid passed in March. Calling the organization “a joke,” Trump insisted that the USPS raise its prices by up to four times its current rate or he would not sign off on the loan.

Those increases have not occurred yet, but they could under Postmaster General DeJoy.

Who is Louis DeJoy?

In June 2020, DeJoy became the 75th Postmaster General in the nation’s history, putting him in charge of the world’s largest postal organization. The USPS’ Board of Governors announced the change in May, following the departure of the first woman to hold the position, Megan Brennan. Brennan, who had previously been a letter carrier, took over in 2015 and announced her retirement at the end of 2019.

DeJoy’s acceptance of the position raised eyebrows for multiple reasons. For one, he had no previous experience in the USPS, having instead spent his more than 35-year career in the private sector as the chairman and chief executive officer of New Breed Logistics. His purported job-related qualifications for Postmaster General were his years working in logistics and collaborating with the post office.

Democratic opponents to DeJoy also noted that he had been a regular donor to both the Republican Party and Trump’s campaign. That included a US$1.2 million contribution to the Trump Victory Fund committee, as well as millions to other candidates and organizations under the Republican Party umbrella.

The USPS is a nonpolitical organization operated by the US government. Furthermore, the Postmaster General – like all USPS employees – is expected to be nonpartisan. DeJoy’s clear partisan contribution history is, therefore, a point of concern. As the CEO of the USPS, DeJoy is in a position to undermine the organization in order to favor Trump.

For these reasons, critics have questioned both DeJoy’s ethics and his competence to lead the organization. Additionally, DeJoy and his wife, Aldona Wos, have financial stakes in competitors to the USPS, suggesting he could have his own reasons for wanting the organization he now oversees to struggle.

An increase in mail delays

Since DeJoy took over as the Postmaster General, overtime pay at the USPS has been slashed. As a result, mail delivery around the country has reportedly faced considerable delays. The House Oversight Committee has called DeJoy to testify in September about his operation of the USPS and address the mail delays some fear could obstruct the election.

Delays in mail delivery have already been an issue in at least one primary election this year. Six weeks after New York’s June 23 primary, two congressional races have only just now been decided, with the blame for the delay being partially on a deluge of mail-in ballots. Additionally, mistakes with the Post Office’s handling of the ballots may have resulted in thousands of them being erroneously discarded.

Trump has used these issues in New York as support for his crusade against mail-in voting, tweeting on July 30, that the process was “a total mess.” Indeed, The New York Times has reported that the problems in New York could represent a microcosm for the nationwide election in November.

Others have argued, though, that the issues New York is facing could have been easily addressed by directing more money toward the process and hiring more staff.

Preparing for the election

Regardless, with the presidential election just three months away, state election boards are running out of time to do the necessary preparation to handle the increased number of mail-in ballots.

For its part, the USPS has insisted it “has ample capacity to adjust our nationwide processing and delivery network to meet projected Election and Political Mail volume, including any additional volume that may result as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The USPS recommends voters request their ballots no later than 15 days prior to the election and mail them back at least one week before Election Day.

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