The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump’s attack on the Postal Service is now a national emergency

Vote-by-mail ballots are shown in a sorting tray on Aug. 5 at the King County Elections headquarters in Renton, Wash. (Ted S. Warren/AP)

You’ve heard the joke about the boy who kills his parents, then pleads for mercy from the court on the grounds that he’s an orphan. That’s essentially what President Trump is doing — except the victim is the U.S. Postal Service. The Post reports:

President Trump says the U.S. Postal Service is incapable of facilitating mail-in voting because it cannot access the emergency funding he is blocking, and made clear that requests for additional aid were nonstarters in coronavirus relief negotiations.
Trump, who has been railing against mail-in balloting for months, said the cash-strapped agency’s enlarged role in the November election would perpetuate “one of the greatest frauds in history.” Speaking Wednesday at his daily pandemic news briefing, Trump said he would not approve $25 billion in emergency funding for the Postal Service, or $3.5 billion in supplemental funding for election resources, citing prohibitively high costs.
“They don’t have the money to do the universal mail-in voting. So therefore, they can’t do it, I guess,” Trump said. “Are they going to do it even if they don’t have the money?”

In an interview on Fox Business on Thursday morning, Trump also said of the money Democrats have requested to help states and the Postal Service ensure that mail ballots are delivered and processed in a timely fashion: “Now they need that money in order to make the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots ... But if they don’t get those two items that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting.”

So to summarize: Trump says an election in which too many Americans vote by mail would be illegitimate, so he’s doing everything he can to make sure that the Postal Service can’t handle the huge numbers of ballots it will have to deliver.

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The White House made sure that grants for the Postal Service would not be included in previous coronavirus pandemic rescue packages (“We told them very clearly that the president was not going to sign the bill if [money for the Postal Service] was in it,” an administration official told The Post in April), and as the problems at the Postal Service worsen seemingly by the day, Trump is sending the same message about any new rescue bill Congress might pass.

And of course, the reason so many people want to vote by mail this year is the continued strength of the pandemic, which is as bad as it is because of Trump’s denial and mismanagement.

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Denying the Postal Service the funds it needs is only part of the plan. Trump’s partner in the project to destroy the Postal Service is Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, the GOP megadonor who has given millions of dollars to the Trump campaign and the Republican Party, and has been on the job for just two months.

Soon after taking office, DeJoy ordered a series of changes in policy that shocked postal employees. He banned overtime and told carriers to leave mail behind at distribution centers, causing it to pile up day after day. Employees also report that sorting machines that help speed mail processing have been removed from postal facilities. The inevitable result has been slower delivery, with letters and packages arriving late and many Americans simply not getting their mail every day. You’ve probably noticed it yourself.

The implications for the election, with unprecedented numbers of Americans wary of going to polls in the midst of a pandemic, quickly became clear. As The Post reported last month, “Postal employees and union officials say the changes implemented by [DeJoy] are contributing to a growing perception that mail delays are the result of a political effort to undermine absentee voting.”

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And now a new problem has emerged. In the past, the Postal Service has delivered ballots at bulk rates but essentially treated them like first-class mail, giving them priority to ensure they arrive quickly to voters. That has allowed states to save money while still getting ballots to voters quickly. But the Postal Service has warned election officials that if they don’t use higher-priced first-class mail to send ballots out — which would cost them almost three times as much — you never know how long they might take.

On Wednesday, 175 House Democrats sent a letter to DeJoy, saying, “The House is seriously concerned that you are implementing policies that accelerate the crisis at the Postal Service,” particularly with regard to the election. For his part, DeJoy has denied that anything is afoot other than efficiency improvements. “Despite any assertions to the contrary, we are not slowing down election mail or any other mail,” he said last week.

The following scenario is not only possible, but highly likely: It’s a week from the election and millions of people finally get around to requesting an absentee ballot. They fill out the ballot and mail it back, but by the time it finally makes its way to their local officials, Election Day has passed and their votes don’t count.

That’s because — and this is vital to understand — in 34 states, including the swing states of Arizona, Georgia, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, ballots can’t just be postmarked by Election Day to count. It has to be received by Election Day. If you mail it three days before, thinking you did everything right, but it doesn’t arrive at the board of elections until the day after the election, it’s tossed in the trash.

This has all the makings of an election nightmare purposefully engineered by Trump and DeJoy. As they know full well, due to Trump’s relentless campaign to convince people that mail voting is inherently fraudulent (unless Republicans are doing it), Democrats are now far more likely to say they’re going to vote by mail.

This is election theft in progress. And as awful as that is, it’s made even more despicable by the fact that to rig the election, Trump is trying to murder a national treasure.

The Postal Service is older than the country itself — the Continental Congress made Ben Franklin the first postmaster general in 1775 — and it remains the most popular agency in the federal government, beloved by Americans for the daily service it provides them, no matter where they live or who they are. I think often about how Title 39 of the U.S. Code defines its mission:

The Postal Service shall have as its basic function the obligation to provide postal services to bind the Nation together through the personal, educational, literary, and business correspondence of the people. It shall provide prompt, reliable, and efficient services to patrons in all areas and shall render postal services to all communities.

“To bind the Nation together.” Think how important that is right now, at a time when we have a president working so hard to tear us apart. It’s no wonder he looks at the Postal Service and sees it as one more thing he wants to destroy.

Read more:

Alexandra Petri: What could the president possibly mean when he says he wants to deny the Post Office funding?

Jonathan Capehart: Vote like Miss Sylvia: Hand-deliver your mail-in or absentee ballot

Richard H. Pildes: The vote-by-mail fight is over. Trump ended it.

Suraj Patel: Voting by mail can work, but not until we fix some things

Marc A. Thiessen: Mail-in voting could accidentally disenfranchise millions of voters

Greg Sargent: Trump and his spinners are suddenly freaking out about Florida. Here’s why.