This post first appeared at BillMoyers.com on Aug. 19, 2020.
Don’t be fooled by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s tactical retreat. The crisis isn’t over. Ten facts frame the story of how Trump is using the pandemic and the Postal Service to undermine the integrity of the presidential election.
#1: The Postal Service Isn’t a Business
The US Constitution empowered Congress “to establish post offices and post roads.” The Postal Service’s stated mission is to “serve the American people and, through the universal service obligation, bind our nation together” by providing “trusted, safe and secure communications and services between our Government and the American people, businesses and their customers, and the American people with each other.”
The Postal Service is meant to be self-sustaining, but congressionally imposed rules make that difficult. Those rules include delivering mail daily, keeping postage rates the same for all parts of the country, and pre-funding retiree health benefits. Trump complains that the Service “loses billions.” So does every other federal agency. Investments in US battleships and fighter jets have yet to show a financial profit.
#2: The Postal Service is the Most Respected Government Agency
On April 9, 2020, the Postal Service’s public approval rating was 91 percent — higher than any other federal agency. On Oct. 1, 2019, its rating was 90 percent.
#3: Interfering with the Mail is a Federal Crime
“Whoever knowingly and willfully obstructs or retards the passage of the mail, or any carrier or conveyance carrying the mail, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.” 18 U.S. Code Sec. 1701
Interfering with an election is also crime under federal and state laws.
#4: Trump Replaced the Entire Leadership of the Postal Service
The historically non-partisan US Postal Service Board of Governors now consists entirely of Trump appointees. The chairman of the board is Robert Duncan whose official biography on the Postal Service’s website boasts that from 2007 to 2009, he chaired the Republican National Committee where he “raised an unprecedented $428 million and grew the donor base to 1.8 million – more donors than at any time in RNC history.”
On May 6, 2020, the Board of Governors named Louis DeJoy postmaster general. He has contributed more than $1.2 million to the Trump Victory Fund and millions more to Republican Party organizations and candidates. Most recently, he chaired the finance committee for the 2020 Republican National Convention. DeJoy still holds a multi-million dollar investment in a Postal Service contractor, as well as options to buy stock in Amazon, which is both a competitor and a customer.
#5: Most Trump Voters Plan to Vote in Person, But Most Biden Voters Plan to Vote by Mail
On June 11, a Politico/Morning Consult poll revealed that only 28 percent of Democrats said that they would cast in-person ballots in November, compared to 63 percent of Republicans. At the same time, Florida Democrats already had a 300,000-person mail-in ballot registration advantage over Republicans. By August 18, the Democrats’ mail-in ballot advantage was more than 660,000 voters.
In 2016, Trump won Florida by 113,000 votes.
#6: DeJoy Interfered with the US Mail
On June 17, two days after DeJoy began work as postmaster general, the Postal Service notified the American Postal Workers Union of plans to remove 671 automated mail sorters (more than 10 percent of the total) from operation throughout the country “over the next several months.” Some machines have the capacity to sort up to 30,000 mail items — including letters and ballots — with only two postal workers running them, according machine technicians. It would take about 30 employees over their entire shifts to do the same work by hand. The map below shows the locations of the targeted machines. Note especially the swing states of Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and the newest swing state — Texas:
On July 13, DeJoy announced major operational changes leading to slower and less reliable mail delivery. The changes included prohibiting overtime and curtailing other measures that local postmasters have used to ameliorate staffing shortages.
In late July, the Postal Service sent letters to election officials in 46 states and the District of Columbia warning that, under the Service’s delivery standards, their deadlines relating to mail-in voting may result in ballots not being returned in time to be counted.
On August 7, DeJoy released a memo reorganizing the Postal Service, reassigning or displacing 23 executives, implementing a hiring freeze, and seeking early retirements. Analysts said that the structure centralized power around DeJoy and de-emphasizes decades of institutional postal knowledge.
On August 13, social media buzzed with photographs of government workers removing mail collection boxes throughout the country. On the same day, DeJoy issued an internal memo to his staff, acknowledging that his operational changes had produced “unintended consequences that impacted our overall service levels.”
#7: Trump Lied
Before Trump was caught lying about it, on August 4 and August 9 he said that he hadn’t spoken with DeJoy about the Post Office.
#8: Trump Confessed
As many states’ expanded use of mail-in voting during the pandemic, Trump has repeatedly asserted that the Postal Service cannot handle the increased volume of mail-in ballots expected for the November election. On August 13, he confessed to withholding the funds it needed to do the job:
“They want $25 billion, billion, for the post office,” Trump said on Fox Business. “Now they need that money in order to have 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 because they’re not equipped to have it.
“Now, if we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money. That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting, they just can’t have it.”
#9: DeJoy Bowed to Pressure, But Trump is Still Undermining Faith in the Democratic Process
On August 18, DeJoy was facing public outrage, growing bipartisan pressure, imminent litigation from at least 20 states, and appearances before Senate and House committees when he issued a statement suspending his operational changes until after the November election. He didn’t say what would happen to automated sorting machines that have already been dismantled and removed, mail collection boxes that have disappeared from city streets, or his reorganization at the highest levels of the agency. Later that day, several states filed lawsuits against Trump and DeJoy seeking to reverse all of DeJoy’s changes.
With DeJoy as his cornerman, Trump’s persistent one-two punches against mail-in voting and the Postal Serve are working. According to a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 51 percent of voters do not believe that mail-in ballots will be counted accurately. Likewise, voters are evenly split — 45/45 — on whether the overall election results will be counted accurately. A recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll revealed that 62 percent of Biden voters plan to cast mail-in ballots, compared to only 24 percent of Trump voters. Conversely, only 36 percent of Biden voters plan to vote in person, compared to 72 percent of Trump voters.
Trump’s tactics are part of a broader strategy aimed at creating post-election chaos if he loses.
”The RNC and Trump campaign advisers are now mapping out their post-election strategy… as they anticipate weeks-long legal fights in an array of states,” according to The Washington Post. “The campaign plans to have lawyers ready to mobilize in every state and expects legal battles could play out after Election Day….” Trump has already planted litigation seeds in Iowa, Nevada, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, including challenges to states’ expanded use of ballot drop boxes to bypass mail delivery altogether.
#10: Trump’s Victims Go Beyond Democracy and the Right to Vote
In his myopic focus on winning re-election, Trump declared war on the US Postal Service, democracy and the right to vote. But he also declared war on a paralyzed woman in Philadelphia who has received mail only twice in the past three weeks and has been waiting for an oxygen tube that she ordered three weeks ago.
He declared war on veterans who receive approximately 80 percent of their outpatient prescriptions from the Department of Veterans Affairs in the mail, including a diabetic in rural Michigan who went without medication for three days as he waited nearly two weeks for its arrival. Every work day, more than 330,000 veterans receive a prescription package by mail.
He declared war on the owners of the Maple Leaf Cheese and Chocolate Haus in Wisconsin, who worry that their cheese will go bad because deliveries formerly taking two to three days now take twice as long.
He declared war on millions of Americans who rely on the post office for prescription drugs, Social Security checks, government assistance payments, tax refunds, and even coronavirus stimulus checks that bear Trump’s name.
He declared war on all citizens who tremble at the thought of having to choose between preserving their health and exercising their right to vote.
As with his botched response to COVID-19, Trump declared war on all of us. His postmaster general may have issued a statement that gave Trump and his defenders a new talking point, but make no mistake: The war continues and it may last well beyond Election Day.
Read all installments of Steven Harper’s Pandemic Timeline.