As the 2020 General Election nears, new concerns regarding mail-in voting have been heightened by a nationwide reduction of the United States Postal Service.
“The United States Postal Service is not a luxury — it is a necessity,” Rep. Rick Larsen said in an Aug. 22 press release. “Washingtonians rely on the postal service to cast their votes, fill lifesaving prescriptions, conduct business and stay in touch with family, friends and neighbors.”
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy began cutting overtime and limiting post office hours after he was appointed in June.
On Aug. 22, the United States Congress passed the Delivering for America Act, which would prohibit USPS from implementing or approving any changes to operations or service levels during the duration of the pandemic — including removing mail sorting machines and mailboxes, other than for routine maintenance. It also provides $25 billion in emergency funding requested by the USPS and supported by the Trump-appointed Postal Board of Governors in April; requires USPS to treat all official election mail as First-Class mail and ensure all election mail is postmarked; and reverses any changes already implemented to USPS operations or policies that delay mail delivery.
“This bill will put a stop to policies like prohibiting overtime and removing sorting machines that endanger Americans’ health, harm the economy and undermine voting rights,” Larsen said. “President Trump’s primary motivation for attacking the USPS is clear: prevent mail-in voting. I have spoken with county auditors in my district who are confident the mail-in ballot system has checks and balances to catch fraud, if it does occur. Any other state can do what Washington state is doing and conduct successful elections via mail.”
On Aug. 18, DeJoy had announced the USPS would not be making any proposed changes until after the election, however, sorting machines and blue boxes across the country had already been removed. Five days earlier, CNN published an article saying it had obtained documents indicating that 671 machines used to organize letters and other pieces of mail were slated for “reduction” in dozens of U.S. cities in 2020.
On the morning of Aug. 18, prior to DeJoy’s backtracking on his plans for USPS, Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced he was leading a coalition of states filing a lawsuit challenging the operational changes. DeJoy’s original reductions included stopping mail processing at three of the state’s five distribution centers — Wenatchee, Yakima and Tacoma.
“Closing these centers significantly harms rural communities, often significantly increasing the distance mail must travel. Mail sent from one address to another in the same town would have to travel all the way to one of the remaining distribution centers and back again before being delivered,” a press release from Ferguson’s office said. “For example, a letter sent from Yakima to a location across town will be sent all the way to Spokane for processing and then back to Yakima.”
In the lawsuit, Ferguson asserted that “the Postmaster General implemented these drastic changes to mail service unlawfully, and seeks to stop the service reductions.”
The reduction in service comes amid continued claims by Trump that vote-by-mail would lead to voter fraud, Ferguson said. Washington has allowed elections to be conducted by mail-in ballot since 2005 and mandated the practice statewide in 2011 without any significant voter fraud, according to a press release from the attorney general’s office.
“For partisan gain, President Trump is attempting to destroy a critical institution that is essential for millions of Americans,” Ferguson said. “We rely on the Postal Service for our Social Security benefits, prescriptions — and exercising our right to vote. Our coalition will fight to protect the Postal Service and uphold the rule of law in federal court.”
The changes had already resulted in mail delays, Ferguson said. The changes already implemented included eliminating staff overtime; prohibiting mail carriers from returning to distribution centers to pick up more mail to deliver; decommissioning sorting machines, reducing sorting capacity by 10 percent; removing mailboxes; and no longer treating election mail as first-class, delaying delivery to voters.
“In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is imperative that we fiercely protect the democratic right to vote for all Americans, and simultaneously, the physical safety of voters,” Ferguson said earlier this month. “Expansion of vote-by-mail options across the country allows us to achieve both.”
It isn’t just elections a reduction in postal service affects, utility bills, prescriptions and social security benefits are all subject to delay if mail service is reduced. This greatly affects seniors, a press release from Ferguson’s office explained.
“The policy changes have already impacted our country’s veterans, who are reporting much longer wait times to receive mail-order prescription drugs,” the press release said.
According to the release from Ferguson’s office, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs fills about 80 percent of veteran prescriptions by mail.
“The VA processes about 120 million mail-order prescriptions per year — 470,000 a day,” the release said. “The Postal Service makes daily prescription deliveries to 330,000 veterans across the country.”
Ferguson asserted in his lawsuit that the Postmaster General acted outside of his authority to implement changes to the postal system and did not follow the proper procedures under federal law. According to Ferguson, the law requires that USPS changes with a nationwide effect in mail service must be submitted to the Postal Regulatory Commission, which evaluates the proposal through a procedure that includes public notice and comment.
Washington is leading the lawsuit, and is joined by Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin.
“I will do everything in my power to help ensure all Washingtonians have access to the full range of services offered by the USPS — especially their constitutional right to participate in state, local and federal elections,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in an Aug. 17 statement. “We are fortunate in this state to have Attorney General Bob Ferguson working to support our rights and we will continue to explore all ways to protect our voting rights in Washington.”