Elections experts and Democrats are concerned that Louis DeJoy, the new postmaster general and longtime Republican donor, is helping President Trump set the groundwork to dispute the validity of mail-in-ballots this November.
With less than 90 days until Election Day, an increasing number of elected officials and voting rights advocates are sounding the alarms over what they view as the Trump administration’s attempt to sabotage the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) ahead of an election in which record numbers of Americans are expected to vote by mail.
Democratic Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan announced Thursday he plans to launch an investigation into new USPS policies implemented by Louis DeJoy, the agency’s new postmaster general and a top Republican donor and Trump ally.
Peters is the ranking Democrat on the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which has oversight of the USPS. He told the Washington Post on Thursday that his investigation would focus on DeJoy’s new operational policy banning employees from working overtime, which has resulted in days-long delays in the delivery of medication, paychecks, and absentee ballots.
The Democrat also received back-up from several Republicans, including Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte of Montana, who urged the USPS to reverse the policy.
“This action, if not rescinded, will negatively impact mail delivery for Montanans and unacceptably increase the risk of late prescriptions, commercial products or bill delivery,″ Daines said Thursday in a letter to DeJoy.
“Delaying mail service is unacceptable,” Gianforte wrote in his own letter. “Do not continue down this road.”
Another 84 House members, including four Republicans, also sent DeJoy a letter criticizing his changes and demanding a reversal.
DeJoy has defended this approach by saying it will help cut costs for the long-beleaguered agency, but it has also forced workers to leave mail behind at post offices and processing plants if they’re running late. Other programs being tested at some facilities have forced USPS employees to leave behind most of a day’s mail to be sorted in the afternoon, rather than delivering it the day it was received, the Post reported.
This has led to delays in cities across the country, including Baltimore, Chicago, Philadelphia, and the Bay Area in California, sparking concerns that such slowdowns could cause chaos ahead of November’s election.
With the coronavirus pandemic still raging across much of the nation, tens of millions of voters are planning to vote by mail rather than risk exposing themself to the virus at polling locations. Even before the pandemic, voting by mail was a readily available option in many states, but to accommodate the surge in demand, 17 other states and Washington D.C. have also made it easier for residents to vote by mail, according to a Washington Post analysis.
Currently, only eight states, including New York and Texas, require voters provide an excuse beyond fear of COVID-19 to be eligible for a mail-in ballot.
Although many Republican-led states are among those that have moved to increase access to mail-in voting, President Trump has taken a different path. Amid plummeting poll numbers and fears that he could lose his bid for re-election due to his mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic, President Trump has spent months attacking mail-in voting with no evidence to back up his statements.
Trump has said mail-in balloting allows for abuse and fraud and would benefit Democrats, even though each of those claims have been debunked time and time again. Research shows that voter fraud is exceedingly rare. A recent Washington Post analysis of data from three vote-by-mail states found that officials identified only 372 possible cases of double voting or voting on behalf of deceased people out of about 14.6 million votes cast by mail in the 2016 and 2018 general elections, or 0.0025%.
Instead, voting rights advocates worry that Trump is setting the stage to dispute the validity of mail-in-ballots altogether.
“Must know Election results on the night of the Election, not days, months, or even years later!” he tweeted last week.
Because of Trump’s attacks, a sharp partisan divide has emerged over mail-in voting, with Democrats being significantly more likely than Republicans to say they will cast their ballot from home in this year’s election.
DeJoy’s policy changes have fueled further concerns among election experts and lawmakers, who worry it’s a cynical ploy that could lead to millions of ballots—most of which are likely to be Democratic—being thrown out in November, potentially tipping the election to Trump.
They have also raised concerns about DeJoy’s massive conflicts of interest. The investigative journalism website Sludge reported last week that DeJoy donated $114,500 to a special Republican National Committee legal fund dedicated to filing lawsuits to prevent states from expanding voting access. He and his wife, Aldona Wos, the ambassador-nominee to Canada, have also invested between $30.1 million and $75.3 million in assets in USPS competitors or contractors, according to Wos’s financial disclosure documents filed with the Office of Government Ethics.
Those ties have some worried that DeJoy was not only installed to undermine the USPS before the election, but also to pave the path for the agency to be privatized, a longtime goal of conservatives.
His efforts have been met with massive pushback, however, and are under increasing scrutiny. Election experts have called for the Postal Service to reverse its new policies, saying they could damage voter trust in mail voting or lead to ballots going uncounted in an election.
“There needs to be some very serious reconsideration of some of the recent USPS policies that have resulted in delays, things like reduction or elimination of overtime,” David Becker, executive director of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation & Research, told the Post.
Sen. Peters was much more blunt in his assessment of the new policy. “If policies are being put in place right now to actually slow down the delivery of the mail, that would be outrageous,” he told the Post.
Those comments came just one day after Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on DeJoy to reverse his policy and made clear they wanted to secure funding for USPS to ensure the sanctity of November’s elections.
“Elections are sacred,” Schumer told reporters after a Wednesday meeting with DeJoy. “To do cutbacks when ballots, all ballots, have to be counted—we can’t say, ‘Oh, we’ll get 94% of them.’ It’s insufficient.”
Trump, meanwhile, spent Wednesday escalating his attacks on vote-by-mail, announcing a federal lawsuit to block the Nevada legislature from expanding the state’s mail-in voting system. But muddling his own message, Trump also took to Twitter to call on Florida Republicans to vote by mail, alleging the state’s system was more reliable because it’s led by a Republican governor, while Nevada is led by a Democrat.
Florida, it should be noted, also voted for Trump in 2016. Nevada did not.
While that battle continues, Justin Glass, director of the postal service’s election mail operations, defended the USPS and said the agency was prepared to handle the sharp increase in mail-in ballots this November.
Speaking with Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose and other state election officials on Thursday, Glass denied reports that postal service had completely ended overtime and said the agency’s recent issues were only temporary and would not affect ballots.
“There is not going to be an impact on service,” Glass said. “We are not going to cut off operations and really leave election mail sitting there by itself.”
Those reassurances have not eased the concerns of Democrats, who made clear they would continue to pressure DeJoy to reverse course and restore reliable mail delivery, without delays.
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“For 245 years, the Postal Service has worked to provide reliable, consistent and on-time delivery that keeps Americans connected no matter where they live – especially in rural areas,” Peters said in a statement on Thursday. “I will be working to get to the bottom of any changes that the new Postmaster General may be directing that undercut the Postal Service’s tradition of effective service.”