“Elections are sacred,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), told reporters after a meeting with Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. “To do cutbacks when ballots, all ballots, have to be counted — we can’t say, ‘Oh, we’ll get 94 percent of them.’ It’s insufficient.”
Schumer said he and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told DeJoy, along with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, that their demands regarding the Postal Service are necessary to striking a deal on broader relief bill that may also include new unemployment benefits and a payroll tax cut.
“It was a heated discussion,” Schumer said, adding that the demand is a “sine qua non for us. We told that to the postmaster.”
DeJoy declined to take questions as he left the Capitol. Meadows suggested that Schumer is looking at the Postal Service as a “fall guy” to blame if ballots are delayed.
“I don’t know that it’s the postmaster general’s position to assure him what’s going to happen with the elections,” he said.
“It’s not a post office problem,” Meadows added. “It’s a secretary of state problem in each state.”
That contradicted a statement from Trump earlier Wednesday, when the president said that part of his opposition to mail balloting is that the USPS is ill prepared to handle it.
“I’m sure the post office doesn’t have enough time,” Trump said in the Oval Office during a meeting with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R). “Millions of ballots, all of a sudden, coming out of nowhere.”
The exchange over the USPS came on a day when Trump escalated his attacks on mail balloting, announcing a federal lawsuit seeking to block a new Nevada law that expands the practice and promising to scrutinize new rules in other states where officials are scrambling to help voters cast ballots during the coronavirus pandemic.
The lawsuit, filed by the Trump campaign late Tuesday in federal court, offered evidence of the president’s growing effort to curtail voting laws in some states while defending the practice elsewhere.
On Wednesday, Trump championed mail balloting in Florida, where he is registered to vote, as well as in Arizona, saying both systems are secure in part because they are controlled by Republicans.
“Nevada has ZERO infrastructure for Mail-In Voting,” Trump tweeted Wednesday. “It will be a corrupt disaster if not ended by the Courts. It will take months, or years, to figure out. Florida has built a great infrastructure, over years, with two great Republican Governors. Florida, send in your Ballots!”
Trump lost in Nevada in 2016 by less than three percentage points. His comments about Arizona came during a White House meeting with the state’s governor, Ducey.
The president’s strategy could further complicate his message on mail balloting, which has shifted in recent days amid growing concern among his own advisers that he has threatened Republican turnout with his blanket attacks on absentee voting.
Now, in addition to arguing without evidence that mail balloting invites widespread fraud, Trump is making the case that the practice is only problematic in those states that do not have substantial experience with absentee voting.
Trump’s deputy campaign manager, Justin Clark, said there is nothing contradictory about the president’s messaging, which he said is to prevent a “power grab” by Democrats in states that are not prepared to expand mail voting.
Nevada, Clark said, required a robust response because the new law “egregiously” violates the Constitution by sending “live ballots” in a state that’s never done that before and by allowing ballots to be cast after Election Day. He promised more litigation “wherever people’s rights are infringed.”
“It’s all about safeguarding free and fair elections,” Clark added.
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) declined to comment. But when he signed the legislation on Monday, he defended it as necessary to allow Nevadans to vote without risk of coronavirus infection.
“Nevada is widely recognized as being a leader in election administration, and this bill will enable election officials to continue to support the safest, most accessible election possible under these unprecedented circumstances,” the governor said at the time.
Voting rights advocates also defended Nevada’s new law, noting that the disqualification of ballots delayed by post office delivery is a far greater risk than a ballot being counted if it is filled out after Election Day.
“People haven’t even gotten their absentee ballots in time to return them, or, once they do receive them, they have very little time to get the ballot back,” said Sophia Lin Lakin, with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project.
Trump has also claimed that states lack the resources to implement the practice safely or complete counting on election night — and that the U.S. Postal Service won’t be able to handle the crush of ballots. Yet the president has done little to help states or the Postal Service avert chaos, even as officials have pleaded for more funding.
“Must know Election results on the night of the Election, not days, months, or even years later!” he tweeted last week.
Meanwhile, Democrats are increasingly focused on new U.S. Postal Service policies put in place by DeJoy, a logistics executive and top Trump donor, that have delayed mail and ensnared prescription medications, pay checks and absentee ballots in days-long backlogs.
The Postal Service has said that the policies are aimed at cutting costs. But postal carriers have warned they are slowing the delivery of mail ballots in key states across the country.
Sen. Gary Peters (Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which has oversight of the Postal Service, said in an interview Wednesday that he will launch an inquiry into the Postal Service’s recent operational “pivot,” as the agency has called it, under DeJoy, who took office in July.
The policies bar postal employees from working overtime, a crucial method of resolving staffing shortages during the coronavirus pandemic, and instructs workers to leave mail behind at post offices and processing plants if they run late. Other procedures being piloted at some postal facilities instruct workers to leave the bulk of a day’s mail behind to be sorted in the afternoon instead of delivering it the day it was received, according to postal employees and memos obtained by The Washington Post.
The new law in Nevada includes two striking provisions: a requirement that election officials mail a ballot to every active registered voter in the state, and another requiring the counting of ballots with no postmark if they are received up to three days after Election Day.
Only a handful of states will mail ballots directly to all voters this year whether or not they apply for a ballot, and unlike Nevada, most have extensive experience conducting mail elections. In states without up-to-date voter rolls, the practice can lead to ballots being sent to voters who have moved or died, inviting ballot theft or fraud.
Trump’s suit cited instances in Nevada’s spring primary in which loose ballots were discovered in apartment building mail areas in Las Vegas.
The three states that have been conducting virtually all-mail elections for the longest, Colorado, Washington and Oregon, regularly remove voters from their rolls who have moved or died, and have had tiny rates of potential fraud.
California also plans to send ballots to all active voters this fall. The Republican National Committee initially sued California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) after he sought to make the change through an executive order. But the party dropped the suit after Newsom proposed legislation instead, which he signed into law earlier this summer.
The Trump campaign is challenging other aspects of Nevada’s new law, arguing that the postmark rule raises the potential that ballots filled out after Election Day could be counted.
“The only objective indicator of whether voters have timely cast their ballots before Election Day will be whether election officials received them on or before Election Day,” the suit argues.
The suit also seeks to block requirements for a minimum number of polling locations on Election Day and during early in-person voting.
Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske (R), who is named in the lawsuit, declined to comment.
The state’s requirement that all ballots with no postmark be counted if they are received by Friday after Election Day is also unusual, given the likelihood that some of those ballots could be cast after Election Day and mailed on Wednesday or Thursday.
The Supreme Court ruled in April, in a case over Wisconsin’s election rules, that allowing ballots cast after Election Day to be counted “would fundamentally alter the nature of the election.”
The Nevada law also puts a spotlight on a tricky situation facing election officials as more and more Americans say they plan to vote by mail: how to enforce rules allowing the counting of ballots postmarked by Election Day.
Such rules are intended to give voters more time to submit their ballots, and to allow the counting of all ballots that are actually cast by Election Day, even in the event of postal delays.
But the Postal Service doesn’t always use postmarks — including on prepaid envelopes, such as those the Nevada law calls for in the November election. By allowing unmarked ballots to be counted up to three days after the election, the law allows ballots to be counted that were cast after Election Day.
Some states with “postmarked-by” rules discard all ballots with no postmark received after Election Day. Some allow such ballots to be counted only if they are received by the next day.
The ongoing legal fights over ballot delivery have increased the pressure on the Postal Service, which has been struggling financially.
Democrats and the White House have been at loggerheads over funds for both the Postal Service and local election officials since April, when USPS leaders forecast dire declines in mail and projected the agency would run out of money by September.
The House passed a $25 billion emergency postal appropriation in its version of the Cares Act, but the Senate whittled the amount down to $13 billion in a bipartisan agreement. The Trump administration intervened to scrap that deal, telling lawmakers Trump would veto the entire package — worth $2 trillion and packed with money for stimulus checks, small-business loans and bailout funds for vital industries — if the final version included a grant to the nation’s mail service.
Instead, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin offered a $10 billion loan, to be made on Treasury’s terms, and lawmakers took the deal.
The Cares Act also included $400 million in state and local funding for expenditures related to election security, but Democrats including Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) believe a total of $4 billion is needed and are pushing for the remaining $3.6 billion to be included in the new stimulus bill.
Erica Werner and Karoun Demirjian contributed to this report.