Trump’s Attempts to Undermine the USPS and Mail-In Voting

So, what's been going on with the Post Office?

The United States Postal Service (USPS) is an independent agency of the executive branch of the US government, and an essential service for millions of Americans. While it is a government agency, it is not funded by taxpayer money. Instead, the agency funds itself entirely from the revenue it makes from mail and package delivery. In recent years the USPS has struggled financially with the advent of internet delivery, and these financial struggles have been further exacerbated by the pandemic. With many businesses shut down amidst COVID-19 and insecurity about leaving homes, the amount of mail being sent has greatly increased which has further aggravated the Post Office’s financial crisis.

Despite having a 91% approval rating with the American public, the USPS has not turned a profit in the past 15 years. They have attempted to increase their revenue by raising the cost of stamps but unfortunately have seen a dramatic decrease in the overall amount of 1st class mail. In 2000, the USPS processed over 103-Billion first-class letters. In 2019, the USPS only processed 55 Billion, which represents a 51% decline in first-class mail. In this most recent, third quarter of this year, the USPS has cited $2.2 billion in losses.

In mid-August, President Trump announced that he would block a $25 billion emergency bill for additional funding and election assistance to the already cash-strapped organization. He stated that he would not approve of the grant to intentionally sabotage mail-in voting. After backlash, he rescinded his comments and said that he would allow the bill to pass. Despite conceding on this point, Trump has been opposed to helping the Post Office in the past.

USPS Truck Pope Moysuh

What changes will the USPS see with the Election?

Since the pandemic took hold in early spring, states across the country have expanded their efforts to allow voting by mail in an effort to prevent the gathering of crowds at polling centers on election day. This fall, at least 84% of voters, or approximately 198 million Americans, can cast their vote by mail. This being said, some states make the process easier than others. The USPS is expecting to process over 80 million ballots for the upcoming Presidential election, and the importance of processing ballots quickly through the nationwide network of post offices will be essential for the outcome of the Presidential Election. 

Here is where things get truly political. Even though the Postmaster General reports to the President of the United States, the USPS has never operated as a political agency, until now. In May 2020, the USPS Board of Governors made a change at the top of the organization and appointed Louis DeJoy to the critically important role of Postmaster General and CEO of the USPS. DeJoy spent his career in the logistics business but has no previous experience working with the USPS. His credentials to serve as the Postmaster General were called into question when background investigations revealed his affiliation to the Republican Party as a major party fundraiser, donating $2.7 Million to Trump and his fellow Republicans since 2017. In addition, the investigations revealed that contracts he negotiated with the USPS were highly profitable for his company New Breed Logistics. 

The appointment of a major partisan political donor to the top spot of Postmaster General is highly controversial and calls into question DeJoy’s recommendation by Trump. DeJoy has implemented operational changes and a clampdown on overtime work that has caused service delays and disruptions across the US. These changes have stirred concerns that DeJoy may be seeking to undermine American’s confidence in the USPS before the upcoming election, a time when it is essential for voters to have the right to vote by mail. 

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How is Trump using the state of the USPS to promote uncertainty about the organization's ability to handle the election?

President Trump has gone on record stating that the upcoming election will see “the greatest scam in the history of politics.” Despite various contradictory messages coming from members of his own party, members of the U.S. intelligence community, and even a member of his own family, Trump continues his efforts to shake up voting by mail amidst the pandemic. He has claimed that that the USPS will be unable to process the influx of ballots in a timely manner and that this will ultimately undermine the results of the 2020 election allowing for the increased potential for fraud, ballot tampering, people submitting multiple ballots, and strategic political delays of the ballots that could undermine the integrity of the election results. Trump says that the postal service is unprepared while at the same time he has refused to approve emergency funding to keep the postal service solvent

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Experts say that mail-in voter fraud and electoral fraud in general, are rare in the U.S. Past attempts to commit mail-in voting fraud have been generally small scams that fail due to various safeguards in place to prevent and catch such efforts. Additionally, the FBI stated that they had no evidence of a foreign plot to counterfeit or forge mail ballots. 

Trump’s assertion of the unsubstantiated claim that voting by mail would lead to an abuse of the system has caused widespread uncertainty. Many Americans are worried that their mail-in ballots may not arrive at their homes, or at their local Board of Elections on time to be counted. According to the USPS, this will not be the case. On any given day the USPS delivers approximately 425 million pieces of mail, and estimations show that election ballots will only account for 2% of all mail from mid-September until the election. Despite Trump's rhetoric, The Post Office maintains that they are well prepared and more than capable to deliver election mail this fall. 

November is coming protest signs Photo by Rosemary Ketchum from Pexels

How does Trump plan to involve the Supreme Court in the situation?

Immediately after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Trump announced that he intended to push forward with a highly qualified woman to replace Ginsburg on the Supreme Court. He intends to fill the vacancy left by Ginsburg during the remaining 45 days of his Presidency. Senator Ted Cruz, R-TX came out and said the Supreme Court needs a full bench of 9 Justices in the event we face a constitutional crisis as a result of the 2020 election. He echoed Trump’s faulty concerns that the USPS is not capable of handling the influx of ballots and the Supreme Court must have a full bench in order to handle any unforeseen issues that arise from a contested election or constitutional crisis. The passing of Justice Ginsburg is a tragedy, and it would appear that President Trump will maneuver to replace her in the next month prior to the expiration of his term and before the election takes place on November 3rd, 2020.

Photo by Claire Anderson on Unsplash

What does this all mean for your vote?

The Presidential Election of 2020 will perhaps prove to be the most unusual in American history. COVID-19 has disrupted every aspect of society and has forced each state to develop voting rules to preserve the integrity of the election and protect voters from the coronavirus pandemic. This hybrid method of collecting ballots through the mail and counting in-person votes has led to mass confusion across the U.S. President Trump has done his best to create doubt and suspicion on the USPS in a time when they will be handling millions of ballots for the upcoming Presidential Election. 

Ultimately, voters need to accept that this will not be a normal election. Myrna Perez, director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Voting Rights and Elections Program, stated, “Americans and journalists need to be prepared for the fact that we may not know on election day who won.” In order to have the transparency and accountability in our elections systems that come about from doing audits, we likely will not know the outcome on Election Day. 

It is essential that Americans plan how they intend to vote whether it be through a mail-in ballot, or for the few states that allow it, in person. If your state will only accept mail in ballots, it is important to request a ballot in advance from https://www.vote.org/ to ensure you are following voter regulations. The USPS has suggested that voters should request their absentee ballot as early as possible and give 15 days to ensure that their vote is counted. You can also return your ballot to local elections offices in most states.

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Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17

Photos: Her Campus Media