With the US presidential election set to take place in November, the United States Postal Service (USPS) has been at the forefront of national controversy when it warned that multiple states’ votes would not be processed in time for the election.
In detailed letters to 46 states and the District of Columbia, the USPS warned that the huge influx of voters expected to use mail-in voting would hinder its ability to have them counted in time on the day of the election. This comes after the government agency had suffered a $160bn (£122bn) budget shortfall from a sharp decline of mail volume in the past 10 years (BBC, 2020).
With the number of COVID-19 cases at 5.7m and the total number of deaths over 177,000 (Worldometers, 2020), the US has long been the country worst affected by the pandemic for some time. As a result, it is not surprising that millions of eligible voters will be utilising the postal vote for their own safety as fears of catching the virus remain high.
In May, the White House appointed notable Republican donor Louis DeJoy as postmaster of the USPS, and in June he proposed sweeping changes to the service that are supposed to cut back on costs and increase efficiency. Instead, it drew the ire of Democrats who claimed that the Trump-appointed postmaster was trying to “sabotage” the election and was rebuked by former President Barack Obama who said Trump was trying to “actively kneecap” the organisation (Guardian, 2020).
The planned changes include the decommissioning of some 600 mail sorting machines, cutting overtime for employees, removing mailboxes, and cancelling delivery runs. This comes as a $25bn legislative stimulus package – drawn up by Democrats in the House of Representatives – is set to be voted on to support the postal service at a time when mail-in voting is set to be at a record high.
However, on 18 August, DeJoy went back on these proposals and halted any continued change as Democrats called for him to testify in the House and Senate, as well as 20 Democrat-controlled states launching multiple lawsuits on the basis of his drastic renovations of the USPS.
President Trump has long accused postal voting of being riddled with fraud, despite using it himself. In a press conference he stated that “universal mail-in voting is going to be catastrophic, it’s going to make our country the laughing stock of the world”(YouTube, 2020).
The President expressed that his problem had to do with ballots being lost, which would mean that the result of the election would not be known “for months, for years”. This may have referred to an article written in April alleging that 28 million mail-in ballots went “missing” between 2012 and 2018 (RealClearPolitics, 2020). However, Snopes confirmed that while 28 million ballots sent out were not returned as undeliverable or by voters, that this number represented uncast ballots and was not indicative of widespread voter fraud (Snopes, 2020).
In brief, it meant that voters chose not to return the empty ballots sent to them to vote.
A study by the non-partisan public policy institute the Brennan Center for Justice also denounced sensationalist claims of voter fraud, demonstrating that the courts and even government investigations agreed that voter fraud is incredibly rare (Brennan, 2020).
The situation is fast-developing, and DeJoy is most probably going to keep to his word not to remodel the postal service until after the election. For President Trump on the other hand, there may be further questions as to how dogmatic his convictions are in preventing mail-in voting come November.