The Stew Reporting on government and politics

The politics of postage

Politics | The upcoming election during a pandemic makes solving the U.S. Postal Service’s problems more urgent
by Kyle Ziemnick
Posted 8/13/20, 01:27 pm

WASHINGTON—Public scrutiny of the U.S. Postal Service is reaching new heights as the agency deals with budget problems, partisan attacks, and questions about its handling of mail-in ballots.

Last week, a federal judge in New York ruled that election boards in the state had to go back and count thousands of absentee ballots they initially disqualified because they lacked a postmark. U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres ordered officials to include any ballot missing a postmark but received by June 25, two days after New York’s primary election.

Democrats accuse the Postal Service of self-sabotage, while Republicans say situations like the one in New York prove the untrustworthiness of voting by mail.

“They want $3.5 billion for something that will turn out to be fraudulent,” President Donald Trump said on Thursday. “That’s election money, basically.” He added that if the Postal Service received funding, it would be able to handle mail-in voting. Democrats, including presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s campaign, accused the president of holding the funding hostage to prevent U.S. citizens from voting by mail.

New Postmaster General Louis DeJoy recently revamped the agency, which included the firing of more than 20 executives and putting strict limits on overtime.

DeJoy said he expects a surge in election mail volume due to the coronavirus pandemic but that the Postal Service could handle it. “However … we cannot correct the errors of election boards if they fail to deploy processes that take our normal processing and delivery standards into account,” he added.

On Aug. 6, the Postal Service reported a $2.2 billion deficit in this year’s second quarter, continuing a sea of red ink that has dogged the agency for the past 15 years.

The Postal Service is the only government agency expected to fund itself through sales. While package deliveries to homebound Americans were up more than 50 percent from April through June, continued declines in first-class and business mail offset those gains. Costs increased significantly to pay for personal protective equipment and replace workers who got sick or chose to stay home in fear of catching COVID-19, DeJoy said.

In 2006, Congress passed a law requiring it to pay in advance for the health benefits of postal retirees.

“I didn’t think it was fair; no other company had been asked to do that kind of thing,” David Woods, a former postmaster in Maryland, told me.

The liberal Institute for Policy Studies noted that without those payments, the Postal Service would have turned a profit for six consecutive years. The agency has simply ignored the payments for years and defaulted on them, which helped contribute to an overall deficit despite positive cash flow.

Even with all of the Postal Service’s problems, most of its customers have not reported major slowdowns in delivery times, and public confidence in the agency has remained high. In June, The Harris Poll released a list of the 100 most essential companies to U.S. citizens during the pandemic. The metrics included public trust, COVID-19 response effectiveness, and overall importance. The Postal Service ranked first, above every other private company on the list.

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Kyle Ziemnick

Kyle is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute.

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  •  West Coast Gramma's picture
    West Coast Gramma
    Posted: Thu, 08/13/2020 03:15 pm

    The US Postal service is more American than apple pie and a '56 Chevy. A truly great America needs to have a viable, national postal service. The facts lead to the conclusion that the president is attempting to destroy this great American institution, and it is also a fact that he is doing so 3 month before elections.

    From the article aboved, "“They want $3.5 billion for something that will turn out to be fraudulent,” President Donald Trump said on Thursday. “That’s election money, basically.” He added that if the Postal Service received funding, it would be able to handle mail-in voting." NO DUH!!

    Trump's statement is what is fraudulent. There is no proof whatsoever that mail-in voting is fraudulent, nor has he offered to provide any. He is wielding the power of his office to achieve the personal, political goal of his own--re-election. Isn't that what third-world dictators do?

    The problem is not the Post Office. The problem is authority in high places purposefully trying to destroy this fundamentally American institution for their own selfish gain.

    Posted: Thu, 08/13/2020 09:17 pm

    There's some confusion, because the quotes from President Trump refer to two different things. (Hang on to your hat while I try to explain the complexity!)

    First, the bi-partisan CARES Act that President Trump signed did provide two forms of coronavirus relief for the Postal Service: (a) deferred payments of the employer share of Social Security, and (b) the ability to borrow up to $10 billion from the Treasury Department. What it did not provide was a bail-out of the mail system’s previous, long-time financial woes.

    Terms and conditions for the loan included a postal reform program to address the long-time financial situation. One aspect would be to increase package delivery rates for online retailers such as Amazon. Another aspect has been a new postmaster who “recently revamped the agency, which included the firing of more than 20 executives and putting strict limits on overtime” (as reported in the article above).

    Second, the HEROES Act (supposedly for coronavirus relief) didn’t succeed past the House because it contained funding of $3½ billion for “election resilience grants.” That’s what President Trump is calling election money – in a bill for coronavirus relief. The bill also included $25 billion to the Postal Service “for revenue forgone due to coronavirus” – in addition to the $10 billion funding received from the CARES Act. According to the article above, the Postal Service could handle the expected surge in election mail. That’s what President Trump was referring to.

    The unsuccessful HEROES Act bill also contained an overhaul of the election system: mandating that voters be sent ballots during times of emergency or disaster (including this November), requiring in-person early voting, and effectively eliminating voter ID laws by allowing voters to submit sworn statements in lieu of an ID in most cases. That’s what has the potential of being fraudulent.

  • JerryM
    Posted: Thu, 08/13/2020 05:39 pm

    Can you provide an analysis of the potential for voter fraud with mail-in ballots?

  • WYO
    Posted: Thu, 08/13/2020 06:08 pm

    I have an awful hard time supporting the USPS.  Our service has been lousy for decades, and it gets worse every year despite the increase in costs.  I think it needs to be privatetised.


  •  West Coast Gramma's picture
    West Coast Gramma
    Posted: Thu, 08/13/2020 10:23 pm

    Hannah, I appreciate the thoroughness of your response. Thanks!

    I live in a state that mostly provides only mail-in or drop-box voting. There are a few in-person voting locations, but inconvenient for most. The system works great. I never hear a word about fraud. ID is checked at the time of voter registration, which can conveniently happen when the driver's license is first received or renewed. It's an awesome system and I love it.

    Didn't the US postal service take a big hit in 2006 when Congress asked it to pay in advance for retirement benefits? That's a very unusual request of businesses isn't it? I'm a pensioner in a solid system, and we never paid the sum total in advance. 

    Posted: Fri, 08/14/2020 10:27 am

    You are 100 percent correct about the retirement mandate imposed by Congress on the USPS in 2006. Unusual indeed!

  • old guy
    Posted: Fri, 08/14/2020 11:01 am

    I have voted absentee ballot for years and not only does it work well,  it provides more time to vet candidates and proposals, but I have to request the ballot and sign that I am who I say I am, plus I was a registered voter prior to requesting the absentee ballot. I have not seen any info on the process to obtain the mail-in ballot. I hear that it might be a mass mailing to residents. If that is the case it is absolutely open to massive fraud, but if handled like my absentee ballot, then it is an appropriate process. Until I know the process, I am not in favor of mail-in voting. None of the comments I read provide the information I need, nor have any media news comments.

  •  West Coast Gramma's picture
    West Coast Gramma
    Posted: Fri, 08/14/2020 11:25 am

    All sources I have read indicate that there is no difference between an absentee ballot and a mail-in ballot. Our president often spreads false information. Mass mailings of ballots is fake news. The mass mailings are for applications to obtain a ballot, not for the ballot itself. Why should it be okay for the president himself to use a mail-in ballot to vote in the state of Florida, but not for everyone else?

    Posted: Fri, 08/14/2020 01:58 pm

    There is a difference between absentee ballot voting and mail-in ballot voting. As you have stated, old guy, an absentee ballot must be requested by the voter and (in Minnesota) there must be proof of residence (be a registered voter or have a witness sign for the voter). Mail-in voting procedures differ by state; you need to go to your state's Secretary of State website to get the details.

    For example, in Minnesota, there is a link to Cities and towns that vote by mail at this website page  
    My bold and italics in quoted statements below:

    "All non-metropolitan townships and cities with less than 400 registered voters located outside of the Minneapolis/St. Paul seven-county metropolitan area can choose to hold elections by mail." In addition, for mail ballot precincts, "ballots are mailed to registered voters." Furthermore, voters in mail ballot precincts can go to a "central polling place where you can drop off their ballot, vote in person, or register on Election Day."

    "Most [cities and towns that vote by mail] hold state primary and general elections by mail, and hold local elections at a polling place." That's because the higher-level elections are partisan, and there are all kinds of requirements for election judges and polling places that small towns would have difficulty meeting.