- Yeah, Its Bad. But the Side Effects are Really — Interesting
A lot has been written about what is happening to the postal service and the potential effect on the election. Let’s see if we can drill down to what we know and what can be done.
Did We See This Coming?
Well, yeah – sort of. The alarm bells have been sounding for several months about the underfunding of the USPS. Just to refresh our memory, the main financial issue is a really weird pension system funding requirement imposed years ago that is unlike anything any other entity has to finance. The math is simply impossible, so money problems pop up year after year. That this could lead to problems for the election at some level.
But This Bad?
No. Now it seems the house is crashing in a serious manner. What happened is not very hard to trace. Two things changed.
One, Donald Trump, that model of clear thinking and cutting-edge analysis, decided that the more people who can vote, the less likely he and his cohorts were to stay in power. Historically, vote by mail has not especially favored either party, but Trump saw it as a threat to be railed against. And his followers believed him.
Now something like 60-75% of the country is considering voting by mail. Republicans? About 25%. The same people don’t plan to vote by mail because, hey, that whole pandemic thing is a hoax, right? Beyond that, Trump has this fixation on hating Jeff Bezos (Washington Post owner). Trump seems to think that if he can cripple the USPS, he can hurt Bezos. Collateral casualties? Too bad.
Two, Trump brought in one of his fixers to be the Postmaster General. The position first held by Benjamin Franklin is now held by a guy (Louis DeJoy) who has zero experience in the field but is completely loyal to Trump and a major donor. And he has major financial ties that compete with the USPS. What could go wrong here?
This is Important for Practical and Historical Reasons
First, the history. The postal service is the only service contained in the constitution. How foundational is that? It existed before the country did. Ben Franklin was its first leader. He laid out the routes and structure that made this a country. The postal service connected us in ways nothing else did. It still does. US Highway 1, running through the East Coast was the original national mail route.
Even in an age of Amazon and FedEx, of email and Zoom calls, the postal service serves us all. It does so no matter how remote, no matter how tough the conditions. They show up. They do the work. (A declaration is in order here. I may be just a bit prejudiced. My brother worked for USPS for 50 years).
The practical aspects are impressive. The service moves something like 430 million items daily. No place is too remote to have some level of service. People who live on the financial margins count on checks arriving on time. Small businesses live or die on delivery times and invoices getting delivered. Over 300,000 veterans get life-saving medicine delivered by the postal service every day (I am one of them).
You might be surprised to know that a large percentage of packages delivered by FedEx or UPS travel part of their journey, often the last mile, by the Post Office. Both commercial services will tell you they could not do what they do without a partnership with the post office.
In short, the USPS is part of the life blood of this nation economically, socially, and now politically.
What Has Been Inflicted So Far?
Where would you like to start? It’s a long list. Almost the entire senior professional leadership (23 people) was suddenly fired or transferred, their authorities transferred to the Postmaster General. Almost 700 mass sorting machines have been decommissioned. Thousands of mail drop boxes have been removed.
Overtime has been banned. Almost every state has been notified that the USPS cannot assure timely voting mail delivery. This last is especially noteworthy in that even though voting mail will come in record volume, it actually represents a relatively small percentage of the total mail load.
None of This was Announced
It all happened under cover. So far, DeJoy has not responded to requests to meet with a long list of States Attorney General (of both parties) and as of this writing had not yet responded to a Congressional call to come explain himself. All this at a time wherein the pandemic has resulted in much higher volumes of mail and shipping and within 90 days of a national election that will have record levels of absentee voting.
See any problems with this profile? DeJoy says he is doing all this to correct financial shortfalls, which is his priority, not service. That the result is already slowed delivery and a hit to public confidence in the mail is just an unforeseen, coincidental and unforeseen result. Yeah, right. This looks to me like election tampering, pure and simple. It also violates the US Code on several counts and constitutes a financial conflict of interest for DeJoy.
So, Are We Doomed?
I am pleased to report that we are not. Some interesting things are happening. A first request to file a criminal investigation has been filed and several states attorney generals are actively looking at doing the same. The USPS Inspector General has begun an investigation (yes, we all wonder if he will be fired before the work is done). Republicans are starting to speak out against all this.
Even Joe Machin, the Republicans’ favorite Senate Democrat, has been raising hell. We will see how the votes go, but it appears the votes are lining up for the money the USPS needs and for legislation to stop all these cuts. Some of the actions to weaken service have, reportedly, been stopped in mid implantation.
Trump may finally have jumped the shark with this one. Large numbers of small business owners, rural voters, seniors, active duty military and veteran families have a new reason to either vote for Biden or against Trump – either reason works. People who may not have voted at all are planning to show up. State and local officials and ordinary citizens are figuring out how to help each other vote securely.
Who Knows What May Come Next?
If DeJoy and others are looking at a real risk of being charged with crimes and going to prison, they may be willing to turn state’s evidence. Wonder what information they would have to share. I am betting this will happen to an important degree if the pressure continues.
For all the understandable handwringing we are doing, the odds are more than decent that your mailed in ballot will arrive as attended if you vote as early as possible. My local election board is mailing out ballots the first week of September. We can mail them in almost eight weeks before election day. And if that doesn’t do it for you, we have 17 places to drop them off in October, not counting the Board of Elections itself, which is yet another option.
A lot of communities are similarly going the extra mile to secure the vote. If your state and local government are run by Republicans, you have reason to worry and should act accordingly. But for most of us, this is manageable. If we are determined and willing to do what we must to vote, we will prevail. Then, maybe, we will finally fix the USPS for the long term. Because we need it.
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