Postal service can handle absentee ballot volume
A mail truck is seen driving through Fox Point in mid-August. A record number of Wisconsin voters are expected to vote by absentee ballot in the November election. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Trump’s latest comments affirmed voting rights advocates’ fears that he is setting the stage to dispute the validity of mail-in-ballots altogether, potentially tipping the election his way.

President Donald Trump on Thursday admitted that he was blocking billions of dollars in funding for the United States Postal Service (USPS) to prevent the agency from being able to handle mail-in voting in the 2020 election. 

“They want $3.5 billion for the mail-in votes, universal mail-in ballots. They want $25 billion for the Post Office. They need that money in order to make the Post Office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots,” Trump said on Fox Business. “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.”

Public health experts, election experts, and local election officials have urged the federal government to provide funding to help states implement mail-in voting this November, when as many as 80 million voters are expected to vote by mail, due to the coronavirus pandemic. House Democrats in May approved $25 billion for the struggling USPS and $3.6 billion for local election officials, but Trump has opposed such measures. 

Trump, whose approval numbers have plummeted in recent polls due to widespread disapproval of his response to the coronavirus, has instead leveled baseless attacks on mail-in voting. He has argued—without evidence—that they will lead widespread voter fraud, even as those claims have been repeatedly debunked. 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%.

Still, Trump has continued his criticism, and his latest comments represent the most explicit attacks yet, affirming voting rights advocates’ fears that he is setting the stage to dispute the validity of mail-in-ballots altogether, potentially tipping the election his way.

RELATED: Trump Is Trying to Undermine Mail-In Voting. Here Are Five Ways to Ensure Your Ballot Is Counted.

Trump’s comments on Thursday also echo statements he made a day earlier at a White House press conference, when he called mail-in voting “one of the greatest frauds in history.”

“They don’t have the money to do the universal mail-in voting,” Trump said of the Post Office, which has sought billions in emergency funding. “So, therefore, they can’t do it, I guess. Are they going to do it even if they don’t have the money?” 

To further advance his cause, Trump also instituted Louis DeJoy, a longtime Republican donor, as postmaster general. In addition to implementing operational changes that have led to days-long delays in the delivery of medication, paychecks, and absentee ballots in cities across the country, DeJoy has also had sorting machines removed from some offices. “That also hinders our ability to process mail,” Kimberly Karol, of the postal service workers’ union in Waterloo, Iowa told NPR this week.

Among those most affected by the delays are U.S. veterans, who rely on the USPS to deliver the prescription medication they get through the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA’s mail-order pharmacy system processes nearly half a million prescriptions a day and more than 330,000 veterans get a package of prescriptions each working day, according to ConnectingVets.

“I have been experiencing medication delays with little to no assistance offered from the VA,” a Florida veteran told ConnectingVets. “Currently, I am experiencing adverse side effects from not having my medication and I have only been offered reassurance that ‘it’s on the way.’ This is unacceptable. Some veterans take life-saving medications. The VA needs a serious inquiry into how to prevent this issue from continuing.”

DeJoy has defended his policies as essential to cutting costs and improving efficiency, but his changes have drawn backlash from Democrats and even some Republicans, who worry it is delaying the delivery of essential items and could cause chaos ahead of November’s election.

“Delaying mail service is unacceptable,” Rep. Greg Gianforte, a Republican from Montana, wrote in a letter to DeJoy last week. “Do not continue down this road.”

USPS officials have also warned states that long-standing classification practices for ballots and voter registration materials may no longer guarantee timely delivery for November’s election, amplifying Democrats’ concerns that Trump is seeking to sabotage the agency. To ensure ballots being delivered on time, the USPS is advising the nation’s secretaries of state to use high-priority first-class postage, which costs 55 cents per item, rather than the typical third-class rate used for mail-in ballots, which only costs 20 cents.

RELATED: Military Vet Slams Trump for Spreading Lies About Voting by Mail

DeJoy has come under additional scrutiny for perceived conflicts of interest. The investigative journalism website Sludge reported earlier this month that DeJoy has investments of at least $30 million in his former company, XPO Logistics, which is both a USPS competitor and contractor. 

On Wednesday, CNN reported that shortly after DeJoy assumed his role as postmaster general, he purchased tens of thousands of dollars worth of stock options in Amazon, which gives him the right to buy new shares at a price much lower than their current market price. DeJoy’s financial interest in Amazon, which is both a competitor to the postal service and contracts with the agency, has sparked further criticism and prompted Tiffany Muller, president of the voting rights group Let America Vote Action Fund, to call for his ouster.

“His reckless disregard for ethical boundaries, combined with the damaging and disruptive ‘operational changes’ he is spearheading at the agency, such as hiring freezes and overtime bans, make him unfit to lead the USPS. He should be fired,” Muller said in a statement. 

Muller also took aim at the president, criticizing both he and DeJoy for their efforts to undermine the USPS, to the detriment of everyday Americans.

RELATED: I’m a Republican. Everyone — Including My Party — Should Embrace Voting By Mail.

“This is a critical time at the Post Office—veterans need their medicines, small businesses need to be able to fulfill their orders, and millions of Americans need to be able to vote safely and know that vote will be counted. The USPS needs a leader who will prioritize delivering mail and ballots smoothly, on time, and in an affordable way,” she said. “DeJoy’s conflicts-of-interest, combined with the president’s admission this morning that he is purposely sabotaging the USPS to make it harder to vote, make it clear that new leadership is necessary.”