The latest five-alarm fire in Washington is over a supposed plot to disfranchise voters centered on the United States Postal Service.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi states flatly that President Trump is waging a “campaign to sabotage the election by manipulating the Postal Service to disenfranchise voters.” She calls Trump’s appointee, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy “a complicit crony,” and says that his changes, according to the postal service itself, “threaten to deny the ability of eligible Americans to cast their votes through the mail in the upcoming elections in a timely fashion.”
Two Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee are calling for a criminal probe of DeJoy, and progressive Twitter is out in force highlighting any mailbox put out of commission as a sign of looming totalitarianism. DeJoy has agreed to testify before a House committee next week, an opportunity to tamp down the maelstrom.
As usual in such controversies, the president has said stupid and alarming things that stoke a hysteria that is immune to fact or reason.
There were already suspicions regarding changes to the postal service’s operations when Trump said last week that if Democrats didn’t get the money they seek for the postal service, there can be no universal mail-in voting. But, as Byron York of the Washington Examiner points out, the $25 billion for the postal service in the latest COVID-relief bill passed by the House was meant as a general bailout that had nothing to do with processing mail-in ballots. The bill has another $3.6 billion for something called the Election Assistance Commission that would go, not to the postal service, but to states “for contingency planning, preparation, and resilience of elections for federal office.”
Trump confused the two pots of money and made it sound like widespread mail-in balloting couldn’t happen without the additional funding, although there’s no reason to think this is true.
Given that the postal service delivers almost 3 billion pieces of mail a week, it is going to be able to handle any surge in mail-in voting, a proverbial drop in the bucket. What the postal service warned of last week is that some states have deadlines for mail-balloting that are too close to Election Day to allow a cushion for a reliable delivery, an admonition meant to ensure that mail-in voting works as intended.
That said, it’s not as though the postal service is in robust condition. It was struggling from decreased mail volume even prior to the onset of the COVID crisis, which made its condition even more precarious.
There were delays in mail-in balloting in the primaries before DeJoy showed up in June. (DeJoy is a Trump donor, but he had success with shipping and logistics in his business career and was unanimously approved by the postal service Board of Governors.) The changes that have drawn such fevered criticism are all commonsensical.
Collection boxes that don’t get a lot of use are routinely decommissioned or moved. The postal service has stopped this practice for now, in reaction to the panic engendered whenever an image of a box getting removed appears on social media. The service has also been deactivating sorting machines for the types of mail that have been in decline, a plan that was in place prior to DeJoy’s arrival. According to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, this will be paused until after the election, too. DeJoy has begun implementing another reform to try to cut down on routine overtime expenses by changing how mail goes out for delivery, a good-government measure that shouldn’t be controversial.
We have met the enemy, and it is not the United States Postal Service.