Postal Service delays, threat to mail-in voting draw concern from Mich. lawmakers, residents
Washington – Mail piling up. Constant attacks from the president. Cuts to overtime as record numbers of ballots are expected to pass through post offices this fall.
The success of the 2020 presidential election could hinge on the U.S. Postal Service. Current signs are not promising.
The Postal Service already was facing questions over how it would handle the expected spike of mail-in ballots due to the coronavirus pandemic, but several operational changes imposed by its new leader have led to mail backlogs across the United States as rumors of additional cutbacks swirl, fueling worries about the November vote.
“It seems like they’re just trying to turn customers away from the post office,” said Jim Sizemore, president of the American Postal Workers Union chapter in the Cincinnati region. He said his offices are behind on deliveries because of new rules specifying when mail can go out.
The pandemic has forced states to expand voting by mail as a safe alternative to in-person polling places. Some states are opting to send ballots to voters or allowing people to use fear of the virus as a reason to cast an absentee ballot. That’s led to predictions of an an unprecedented amount of mail voting in the presidential election.
Trailing in the polls, President Donald Trump has been sowing public distrust in the Postal Service’s ability to adequately deliver ballots and has, without evidence, said allowing more people to vote by mail will result in rampant corruption.
The agency’s new leader, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a former supply-chain CEO and a major donor to Trump and other Republicans, has pushed cost-cutting measures to eliminate overtime pay and hold mail until the next day if postal distribution centers are running late.
DeJoy has said repeatedly that the Postal Service is in a financially untenable position and needs to rein in expenses. This past week, it reported $2.2 billion in losses during the three months that ended in June.
U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, launched an investigation after reports that the Postal Service was experiencing delays. Peters said he received complaints from people across the nation. Peters was joined Monday by U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, during a call to give Michigan residents a chance to voice their concerns with the delays.
“Our democracy is being held in the hands of the postal service... because of COVID, we don't have a choice. We must vote by mail, and that is not going to be a deterrent for our constitutional rights, and our civic responsibility of voting,” Lawrence said.
Postal leaders want at least a $10 billion infusion from Congress as well as regulatory changes that would end a costly mandate that they fund in advance billions of dollars in retiree health benefits.
“Without dramatic change, there is no end in sight, and we face an impending liquidity crisis,” DeJoy told the Postal Service’s governing board Friday.
Memos from post office leadership, obtained by The Associated Press, detailed an elimination of overtime and a halting of late delivery trips that are sometimes needed to make sure deliveries arrive on time. One document said if distribution centers are running behind, “they will keep the mail for the next day.” Another said: “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.”
On the call with Lawrence and Peters was Roscoe Woods, president of the American Postal Workers Union Local 484. He said once DeJoy took office, the new policies limiting overtime directly resulted in mail being delayed.
“If the facility is properly managed, and then the policies are put in place that are designed to ensure we complete our mission every single day, we can deliver on time,” Woods said.
Additional records obtained by AP outline upcoming reductions of hours at post offices, including closures during lunch and on Saturdays. Rumors have also circulated about the potential for entire offices to shutter, after the Postal Service told Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., that regional managers there have identified 12 offices for “feasibility studies.” Postal employees have been recently instructed not to talk to news media while on duty, according to another memo obtained by AP.
Detroit News Staff Writer Ariana Taylor contributed.