Trump's new postmaster general seems determined to undermine mail-in voting

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Louis DeJoy was reported to be planning to slow mail delivery and reduce overtime for postal employees.

Since Donald Trump installed Republican megadonor Louis DeJoy in the position of United States postmaster general on May 5, Postal Service mail delivery delays have been noticeably worse in many places. With millions expected to vote by mail in November due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some worry DeJoy's cuts to the service he oversees could affect the 2020 election.

Trump has been undermining the U.S. Postal Service since he took office. He has mocked the agency as a "joke," refused to back a pandemic-related bailout for the agency, proposed cuts to its budget, explored privatizating it, and insisted that it raise the rates it charges Amazon for shipping. The online retail company's founder, Jeff Bezos, owns the Washington Post, a news outlet Trump frequently derides for publishing unflattering stories.

DeJoy is a wealthy businessman and finance chair for the 2020 Republican National Convention who had given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Trump's reelection campaign and other GOP lawmakers before he was appointed.

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The website Sludge reported last week that DeJoy also gave $114,500 to a special Republican National Committee legal fund dedicated to filing lawsuits to prevent states from expanding voting access.

At the time of his appointment, critics noted DeJoy had millions invested in U.S. Postal Service competitors and contractors and that he is the first person in decades tapped to lead the Postal Service without prior experience working directly for the agency.

In a column published by NBC News in July, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington deputy director Donald K. Sherman and Common Cause director of voting and elections Sylvia Albert raised these conflicts of interest and warned that DeJoy's selection "threatens to corrupt one of America's most trusted institutions at a key moment."

Since DeJoy took over, their fears appear to have been borne out.

Fortune reported last month that DeJoy planned to slow mail delivery and reduce overtime for postal employees. It cited a recent internal Postal Service memo that warned that "one aspect of these changes that may be difficult for employees is that—temporarily—we may see mail left behind or mail on the workroom floor or docks, which is not typical."

DeJoy defended the elimination of overtime pay for postal workers as designed to "ensure that we meet our service standards."

The agency is also considering closing multiple local post offices in upcoming months, according to a MarketWatch report last week. And many locations have already reduced their hours of operation.

Even beyond these cuts, some communities have been experiencing major delivery delays. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported this week that delays in the Philadelphia region were leaving some waiting more than three weeks to receive letters and packages. The article noted that coronavirus cases among postal workers have been a contributing factor, leaving many routes without a regular or substitute carrier.

With elections coming up and more people planning to vote by mail due to the pandemic, advocates worry the delays could mean ballots will not get to voters or polling places on time. And some have suggested this could be intentional.

"We have an underfunded state and local election system and a deliberate slowdown in the Postal Service," Wendy Fields, the executive director of the Democracy Initiative, told the New York Times last week. Trump, she claimed, was "deliberately orchestrating suppression and using the post office as a tool to do it."

For his part, Trump has seized on the challenges the Postal Service is facing as an argument against allowing voting by mail at all.

Last week, Trump tweeted a video from a Georgia television station showing an experiment in which a reporter mailed hundreds of ballot-shaped envelopes to a post office box to see how long it took them to arrive. Most, but not all, had arrived within several days. The reporter observed that the small percentage that did not immediately arrive could represent an important portion of the vote in a close election.

Trump then cited this "testing" as an example of why voting by mail in the 2020 elections would not work. "Mail-In Voting is already proving to be a catastrophic disaster," he claimed.

On Monday, he argued against Nevada's new law mandating that every registered voter automatically receive a ballot in the mail for the November election, tweeting that the "Post Office could never handle the Traffic of Mail-In Votes without preparation."

This week, House Oversight Committee chair Carolyn Maloney asked DeJoy to testify next month about "recent changes to U.S. Postal Service operations and standards and the need for on-time mail delivery during the ongoing pandemic and upcoming election." He reportedly agreed to do so.

In an email, a U.S. Postal Service spokesperson wrote that the agency is in financial trouble and that "Congress and the Postal Regulatory Commission must enact legislative and regulatory reforms to help address the situation. At the same time, it is imperative for the Postal Service to operate efficiently and effectively, while continuing to provide service that meets the needs of our customers."

The statement noted that "the Postal Service remains fully committed to fulfilling our role in the electoral process when public policy makers choose to utilize the mail as a part of their election system, and to delivering Election Mail in a timely manner consistent with our operational standards.

"To be clear however, and despite any assertions to the contrary, we are not slowing down Election Mail or any other mail," the statement continued. "Instead, we continue to employ a robust and proven process to ensure proper handling of all Election Mail consistent with our standards."

It concluded by noting that "the notion that the Postmaster General makes decisions concerning the Postal Service at the direction of the President is wholly misplaced and off-base."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.