A president, a post office and a pandemic

(Eagan, Minnesota) On Saturday, more than one hundred people rallied outside St. Paul’s USPS Distribution Center to support USPS workers. They also showed their disapproval of the removal of seven high-volume sorting machines 72 days before a national election.

The seven machines are part of the 671 nationwide that the Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has ordered decommissioned. These mail sorters are massive — some are a quarter of a city block long. Some sorters have been dismantled and others moved outside and left in the rain.

The 671 machines can sort up to 21.4 million pieces of paper mail per hour. The USPS processes as much as 500 million pieces a day, but the difference in measurements between hours and days does not provide an apples-to-apples comparison. Mail volume is typically lower in the summer. When volumes rise these machines are ready and are put back into service, says a former postal worker from the facility.

This is an example of the type of sorting machines being decommissioned. Photo by USPS

The volume of decommissioned machines has spiked

Every year the post office retires some machines, but it’s the volume happening now that is raising alarms. In 2018 three percent were decommissioned nationwide. In 2019 it was five percent. This year it’s 13 percent.

While without seeing an analysis of the post office’s capacity and needs, the timing of this move seems suspect. The global pandemic has already increased American’s dependence on these services. And now, essential items such as prescriptions and checks are often being delayed by days at a time when people are reluctant to leave their homes.

The effect of a USPS slowdown on November’s election

But many point to a sinister motive —  delaying ballots mailed for the November election. DeJoy made other policy changes that are slowing the delivery of mail.

DeJoy cut worker overtime, which is causing delays. He ordered that ballots no longer be treated as first class mail (although, under public pressure, he says he is reversing that decision). Ballots undelivered by deadline are not counted and may be destroyed by the USPS.

An example of the ballot slowdown in action

One of our daughters mailed her absentee ballot in Minneapolis the Friday before the primary. The ballot was not received by the cutoff seven days later.

Who is Louis DeJoy?

Louis DeJoy
Louis DeJoy has offered few specifics to assuage fears that the U.S. Postal Service may fail American democracy at this hour of crisis.Photograph by Alex Wong / Getty via newyorker.com

DeJoy became Postmaster General in May 2020. He is a businessman and major donor to Republican politicians. According to FEC filings, between 2015 and the latest reporting period this year he has directly given $3,280, 262.52 to Republican causes. Of that, $1,240,100 went to Donald Trump as a candidate (the legal limit) and to the Trump Victory political action committee (which allows unlimited contributions).

These amounts do not include any money DeJoy may have raised from other wealthy donors, nor does it include  “dark money” contributed, if any. That’s the type of contributions that is not reported due to the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling.

Then there is DeJoy’s possible conflict of interest. He has a $30–$75 million equity stake in XPO, the company which he formerly ran and which is a subcontractor for USPS.

DeJoy’s selection characterized as a political contrivance

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin played a key role in selecting the board members who hired Louis DeJoy as postmaster general. Photo by YURI GRIPAS • ABACA PRESS via nytimes.com

According to an article in the New York Times, Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin maneuvered DeJoy into the position as Postmaster General.

An excerpt: It was an unusual meeting at an unusual moment.

Since 1970, the Postal Service had been an independent agency, walled off from political influence. The postmaster general is not appointed by the president and is not a Cabinet member. Instead, the postal chief is picked by a board of governors, with seats reserved for members of both parties, who are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate for seven-year terms.

Now, not only was the Trump administration, through Mnuchin, involving itself in the process for selecting the next postmaster general, but the two Democratic governors who were then serving on the board were not invited to the meeting. Since the meeting did not include a quorum of members, it was not subject to sunshine laws that apply to official board meetings, and there is no formal Postal Service record or minutes of what was discussed.

The President, mail-in voting and the mail slowdown

In May, Twitter took the unusual step of fact-checking a presidential tweet by including a fact checking link. Image from businessinsider.com

President Trump is still asserting daily that mail-in voting is open to fraud, but many experts say that it is a false claim.

Six swing states that are crucial to his reelection – Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin –  have the same no-excuse absentee balloting that Minnesota has, and more states have enacted it due to the pandemic. There were already 34 states (plus the District of Columbia) using this system before the pandemic.

Trump, his family members and many on his team vote by mail

President Trump voted by absentee ballot in this year’s Florida  primary and is doing so in the general. Trump has asserted that “universal mail-in ballots” is somehow different from no-excuse absentee ballots, but experts say it is not. However, his own campaign and other Republicans are quietly pushing mail-in voting while he continues to undermine it.

From Business Insider: The sheer number of Trump advisors and campaign officials who have taken availed themselves of absentee and mail-in voting across several states over the past decade undercuts Trump’s own argument that mail-in ballots are fundamentally vulnerable to fraud and corruption, and has led critics to accuse Trump of hypocrisy.

States which automatically mail ballots to “active voters”

President Trump on Fox News: I go by the election,” Trump added. “Now with that being said, I have to tell you that if you go with this universal mail-in where you send millions of votes — in California, tens of millions of ballots being sent to everybody and their dogs. Dogs are getting them, OK? People that have been dead for 25 years are getting them.”

California has offered no-excuse absentee voting since 1978. In 2020 it’s one of five states (including Nevada, New Jersey, Vermont and the District of Columbia) to change their laws to  automatically mail ballots to “active, registered voters” due to the pandemic. All five are Democratic strongholds, and are not likely to affect  the Presidential race nor control of the U.S. Senate.

Five other states have already been automatically mailing ballots to active voters in previous elections. They are Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah — two of which were won by President Trump in 2016.

President Trump continues to foment disinformation about this November’s election. Source: Twitter

What is an “active voter”? Interestingly enough, there is a legal definition of it that applies to federal elections, and neither dogs nor dead people are included. If someone skips the last two federal elections they are inactive. States may send applications to apply for a mail-in ballot to registered, but inactive voters.

Minnesota is one of 30 states (the latest being Texas) to join the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) to clean its voter rolls. ERIC is a non-profit organization with the sole mission of assisting states to improve the accuracy of America’s voter rolls.

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