The stupid USPS fight of 2020

This current embroilment over Postal Service funding is stupid only because it didn’t have to be this way. President Donald Trump, as his wont, tied increased USPS funding with this idea of universal mail-in voting while claiming it helps Democrats more than Republicans (evidence of higher Democratic participation is mixed, for those wondering). Democrats see Trump’s comments, along with changes from Postmaster General Louis DeJoy (who is a major Trump bundler), as proof the White House seeks to cause delays in the November election and figure out a way to claim fraud should he lose.

It’s not a simple issue despite the obvious role of politics in the entire situation. Government Executive reported in January the USPS Board of Governors was expected to pick an outsider to handle Post Office affairs. Unions didn’t want any service cuts while business organizations pushed for someone who had experience with unions and the ability to use technology and innovation. DeJoy appears to fit the bill based on his history in the private sector. Questions remain on why USPS’ Board of Governors, all Trump appointees, chose DeJoy as Postmaster General given his role in raising funds for Republicans. His wife’s role in Republican political circles as the Canadian Ambassador-elect and vice-chair of the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships is also troubling and could give off the air of handing out favors to political supporters in exchange for policy adjustments. Politics makes everything ugly.

DeJoy’s nomination meant changes to how USPS operates. Via NBC News:

Internal documents reviewed by NBC News showed DeJoy is decommissioning 671 of its letter sorting machines, the absence of which will further contribute to a slowing of the mail, postal workers said. A USPS spokesman, David Partenheimer, told NBC News that the removal amounted to “Normal business adjustments!” and added the Postal Service often moves equipment because of fluctuating mail volume.

Meanwhile, numerous states received recent letters from the Postal Service warning that their vote-by-mail deadlines were too tight to ensure proper delivery. A number of states are expanding vote-by-mail because of the pandemic, seeking to prevent crowded polling places and possible spread of the virus.

Democrats see these USPS operational changes as Exhibit A of said political patronage and helping Trump come November. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants DeJoy to appear before the House (and probably the Senate) for discussion on August 24th while saying he, “has acted as an accomplice in the President’s campaign to cheat in the election, as he launches sweeping new operational changes that degrade delivery standards and delay the mail. The Postal Service itself has warned that voters – even if they send in their ballots by state deadlines – may be disenfranchised in 46 states and in Washington, D.C. by continued delays. This constitutes a grave threat to the integrity of the election and to our very democracy.”

Not quite, if The Wall Street Journal is to be believed.

The Postal Service sent letters last month to election officials in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, echoing public reminders that mail-in balloting shouldn’t be left to the last minute…the Postal Service warned certain states that it can’t promise it will deliver all mailed ballots in time to be counted. The letters said tight deadlines allowed by some states are to blame, depending on state laws.

Some states allow voters to request and cast a mail-in ballot up to a few days before Election Day. That might be insufficient time for delivery and “creates a risk that ballots requested near the deadline under state law will not be returned by mail in time to be counted,” said a July 29 letter from the Postal Service’s general counsel to Pennsylvania’s top election official.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, said the letter she received reiterated the need for election officials to work with postal officials to avoid a last-minute crunch. She added: “If this letter aims to backtrack on that collaboration or the promise of prioritization of election mail, that would be very concerning.”

DeJoy is saying the right things publicly to assuage Democrat concerns.

“If public policy makers choose to utilize the mail as a part of their election system, we will do everything we can to deliver Election Mail in a timely manner consistent with our operational standards,” he told USPS Board of Governor on August 7th. “We do ask election officials and voters to be mindful of the time that it takes for us to deliver ballots, whether it is a blank ballot going to a voter or a completed ballot going back to election officials. We have delivery standards that have been in place for many years. These standards have not changed, and despite any assertions to the contrary, we are not slowing down Election Mail or any other mail. Instead, we continue to employ a robust and proven process to ensure proper handling of all Election Mail.”

He’s likely to repeat these comments when he shows up before Congress.

Two alternatives to solve the USPS mess: privatize it or slowly defund the entire thing although the federal government will have to devote money to funding USPS’ messy pension plan. This requires an act of Congress, not the presidency, meaning it won’t happen given the desire of the government to maintain some sort of control over the mail. Both moves get rid of the political aspects of it to a certain extent (particularly the politics of USPS Board of Governors appointees) while also allowing USPS to make needed changes to increase efficiency.

The likelihood of either happening remains slim to none meaning we’ll just get USPS theater for the rest of the month. Yay…silly season.

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