Months ago, several political commentators (including this one) floated the possibility that behind Donald Trump and the complicit republican party’s call to de-fund the United States Postal Service (USPS) is an insidious voter suppression strategy.
We no longer need to speculate.
Trump said the quiet part aloud Thursday when he admitted to Fox Business’s Maria Bartiromo he is blocking Postal Service funding in a new coronavirus relief bill to hamper Democrats’ mail-in voting efforts.
Trump saying clearly on Fox why he won’t fund USPS. “Now they need that money in order to make the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots…But if they don’t get those two items that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting…”
— Abby D. Phillip (@abbydphillip) August 13, 2020
But the assault on the USPS isn’t just bluster.
Former Postmaster General Ronald Stroman, who ceded his position to Trump mega-donor Louis DeJoy earlier this year, warned recent “major operational changes” in the postal service, like mail sorting machines being removed, overtime being curtailed, and carriers being ordered to leave behind undelivered first-class mail, could disenfranchise voters.
Stroman, now a senior fellow at the Democracy Fund, explained:
“The concern is not only that you’re doing this in a pandemic, but a couple of months before an election with enormous consequences. If you can’t right the ship, if you can’t correct these fast enough, the consequence is not just, ‘OK, people don’t get their mail’; it’s that you disenfranchise people. Making these changes this close to an election is a high-risk proposition.”
Trump’s attempted murder of your post office is titanic scandal.
The post office is a public utility Americans rely on absolutely.
If trump and his stooges have their way you’ll be paying much more to send ✉️ and 📦 much slower. https://t.co/ENdUBijm6p
— Bill Pascrell, Jr. (@BillPascrell) July 14, 2020
Although this is a way Trump can exploit his office to rig the election in his favor, he is merely capitalizing on decades-old GOP legislation designed to knee-cap the industry for which Benjamin Franklin served as the first Postmaster General.
In 2006, the Republican-led Congress passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA), which required the postal service to calculate all its anticipated pension costs for 75 years and set aside five billion dollars per year to cover future employees.
That’s five billion dollars each year for employees who haven’t even been born yet.
Writing for The Week, Jeff Spross explained:
“Consider your average 30-year mortgage. What if you had to set aside a few hundred thousand dollars right now, enough to pay the whole thing, even if you were still going to make payments over 30 years? No one would ever take out a mortgage. That’s the whole point: the costs only come in over time, and the income you use to pay them comes in over time as well. It works exactly the same for retiree pensions and benefit funds. Which is why, as economist Dean Baker pointed out to Congress, pretty much no one else does what the PAEA demanded of the Postal Service.”
Fast forward to today, when the USPS is faced with not only this handicap but also the unprecedented economic strains the virus is imposing.
Add to it the urgency of social distancing during an election year.
So what’s to be done?
“Rather than just trying to protect the USPS as it currently exists from Trump administration attacks, we should go further. Let’s expand the USPS’s mandate.”
Postal banking, a service the USPS offered through much of the last century, would allow postal customers to open simple savings accounts, as they can do in France, New Zealand, and South Korea.
“Democrats will support and encourage Congressional efforts to guarantee affordable, transparent, trustworthy banking services for low- and middle-income families, including bank accounts and real-time payment systems through the Federal Reserve and easily accessible service locations, including postal banking.”
Bhaskar Sunkara added:
“As private banks continue to operate in predatory ways and close local branches and ‘payday lenders’ prey on workers without bank accounts, a viable public option is needed more than ever.
“We can imagine, for example, the USPS using its unrivaled logistical reach to deliver food and other essentials to the poor and elderly, or expanding into the field of telecommunications by helping to improve access to broadband internet in rural areas.”
On Wednesday, House Democrats introduced the Delivering for America Act, legislation to reverse Louis DeJoy‘s new policies and prevent additional changes until the COVID-19 pandemic is officially declared over.
The bill’s sponsor, House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), explained:
“Our Postal Service should not become an instrument of partisan politics, but instead must be protected as a neutral, independent entity that focuses on one thing and one thing only—delivering the mail. Millions of people rely on the Postal Service every day to communicate, to access critical medications, and to vote. At this juncture in our nation’s history, when the number of Americans voting by mail for this Presidential election is expected to more than double from the last, Congress must protect the right of all eligible citizens to have their vote counted. A once-in-a-century pandemic is no time to enact changes that threaten service reliability and transparency. The Delivering for America Act would reverse these changes so this fundamental American service can continue unimpeded.”
In April, Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer and Senate counterpart Ron Wyden introduced “The Resilient Elections During Quarantines and Natural Disasters Act of 2020,” intending to replicate nationwide what their state has practiced since being passed into law in 1998.
The bill calls for $500 million to help states prepare for voter disruptions the coronavirus may inflict.
Wyden and Minn. Sen. Amy Klobuchar also introduced “The Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act (NDEBA)” to allow all states 20 days of early voting, counting mail-in ballots submitted during 21 days before an election, and ensuring all voters have the option to submit absentee ballots.
New York State Senator Jen Metzger (D–Rosendale) has introduced a bill (S8120) requiring the state board of elections to create a vote-by-mail election plan during emergencies, which would allow state residents to cast via U.S. mail June 2020 ballots should the current crisis continue.
Her plan involves all eligible voters receiving and returning ballots through the mail or delivering them to designated locations–just like Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Utah, and Colorado.
New York State Senator Alessandra Biaggi also introduced her version.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy is expected to announce mostly mail-in voting for November’s election.
Trump is threatened to veto any legislation even mentioning an increase in Postal Service funding.
The Postal Service announced on Friday at least four states–Michigan, Pennsylvania, California and Washington–face “significant risk” their voters will not have enough time to complete and return ballots in time under current state laws.
If this weren’t bad enough, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) democracy and human rights division recently announced the “integrity of election day proceedings” could be under threat, and recommended sending observers to monitor our election, as has been done for other countries with insecure voting systems.
As citizens, we need to do our part to reach out to our elected lawmakers–even if they’re republicans–by calling the Congressional switchboard at 202-224-3121.
The assault on the postal service is not just an attack on the election.
It’s an attack on democracy itself in perpetuity.
It’s an attack on the economy, health, and the Constitution.