The financially troubled US Postal Service and its recently appointed Postmaster General, former Trump campaign contributor Louis DeJoy, have been caught in the middle of a partisan dispute between President Trump and congressional Democrats, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, over universal mail-in balloting that Democrats are pushing for the November 3 election.
Democrats have publicly accused DeJoy of interfering with normal Postal Service operations in a deliberate effort to help Trump disrupt the delivery of mail-in ballots cast for the November election. Trump’s critics claim that if the initial vote count shows Trump to be losing, he will try to invalidate the election’s results, based upon irregularities with the mail-in votes. Trump and his supporters dismiss the accusation as yet another unfounded Democrat conspiracy hoax.
Meeting to vote in a rare special session last Shabbos, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passed a bill to provide the US Postal Service with an extra $25 billion in emergency funding to cover its additional costs in processing and delivering millions of additional mail-in ballots for the November 3 election. The blank ballots are being mailed out to every voter in certain states by order of their Democrat governors. The special House bill also blocks implementation of long overdue operational changes in USPS that have been implemented since January, including additional changes announced by DeJoy after he took over in June, which are intended to cut costs and further increase efficiency.
The next day, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said that the bill that the House passed by a 257-150 vote, mostly along party lines, is “going nowhere.”
Before the legislation passed the House, Trump had urged a no vote, and said he would veto it if it reached his desk in its current form — if it somehow makes it through the Republican-controlled Senate. Trump has predicted that the increased volume and slow delivery of mail-in ballots will delay the post-November election vote count by days, or possibly even weeks.
MAIL-IN VOTE PROBLEMS IN NEW YORK AND NEW JERSEY
As proof, Trump cited extensive problems encountered by local Board of Election officials in New York City and Paterson, New Jersey, due to problems with mailed-in ballots ordered by the Democrat governors of New York and New Jersey.
Last week, Judge Ernest Caposela invalidated the results of the May 12 election for Paterson’s Third Ward city council seat because it was “rife with mail-in vote procedural violations.” Last month, New Jersey’s attorney general announced that a Paterson city councilman and a councilman-elect were among four people charged with criminal conduct involving mail-in ballots for that seat.
Paterson will now be required to hold another election between the indicted candidate and his opponent because it is impossible to determine just how many fraudulent ballots were cast. According to a report by a USPS inspector general, more than 24% of ballots cast in that Paterson race were rejected for failing to meet the standard for mail-in ballots.
On June 23, New York City held a primary following the widespread distribution of mail-in ballots ordered by Governor Andrew Cuomo to spare voters the risk of infection. The result was a deluge of 400,000 mail-in ballots, 10 times the normal volume of absentee ballots. Local election officials were totally unprepared to process and count them in a timely matter. Nearly six weeks later, the races in two congressional districts remained undecided, as city, state and Postal Service officials traded accusations about who was responsible for the botched vote counting.
DEMOCRATIC CONSPIRACY THEORY
Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, along with other Republicans, also criticized the House bill, calling it part of another unfounded Democrat postal “conspiracy theory.” The same day that the House voted, McConnell issued a statement declaring that, “the USPS is equipped to handle this election, and if a real need arises, Congress will meet it.”
“That bill was not a serious bill,” Meadows said of the House legislation. “And my conversations with a lot of the Democrats on Capitol Hill yesterday is, if you want to be serious about it, this president is willing to put forth money and reforms.”
Meadows called the House bill a Democrat “political statement,” and stressed that President Donald Trump would consider additional money for the Postal Service only as part of a broader coronavirus relief package. That would include another round of direct federal payments to lower and middle-income American families, a cancelation of Social Security payroll withholding taxes, an extension of reduced federal supplements to state unemployment insurance payments, and an extension of federal loan forgiveness programs for small businesses willing to spend the money to keep employees on their payrolls while they remain hobbled by coronavirus restrictions. In addition, McConnell is considering including a second $10-billion Postal Service rescue payment as part of the next Covid-19 relief package.
The earlier relief packages passed by Congress during the spring did include $10 billion to cover additional Postal Service coronavirus-related operating costs, but Postal Service officials have also been asking for a separate, less restrictive congressional funding package which they could use to cover long-needed capital costs, such as the replacement of the worn-out fleet of 30-year-old postal delivery trucks.
“Hopefully what will happen is the Republican senators will take this bill when it comes across, they’ll amend it and actually address many of the things that are hurting America right now in terms of this pandemic response and be able to get it to the president’s desk,” Meadows said.
PELOSI REFUSING TO BARGAIN ON A LARGER RELIEF BILL
Speaker Pelosi, however, rejected Meadows’ package relief proposal as “bare leaves.”
“What they want to do is not the right path,” she insisted on Sunday. “All the president wants is this one thing: He wants his name on the letter to go out with a check in it, and he doesn’t care about the rest of it.”
Pelosi complained that the relief measures that Meadows and McConnell are proposing don’t address such problems as children facing food insecurity because of the pandemic, apartment dwellers grappling with evictions, a shortage of funds to pay for coronavirus testing and treatment, and money to cover the additional pandemic-related costs incurred by state and local governments. Money for those expenses and other Democrat wish-list items was included in a $3 trillion bill that House Democrats passed earlier this summer.
Republicans and the White House rejected that measure, saying it provides far more money than is currently required to cover legitimate Covid-19 relief needs. Efforts to negotiate a bipartisan compromise between the House Democrat relief package and a $1 trillion Republican relief offer broke down last month, which allowed the controversial $600-a-week federal supplement to state unemployment benefits to expire at the end of July.
DEJOY IN THE CONGRESSIONAL HOT SEAT
On Sunday, Senate Democrat Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said he secured an agreement with the Postal Service’s Board of Governors’ new bipartisan election committee to issue a report within two weeks on USPS plans to address a surge of mail-in ballots during the November elections.
“Congress will use that report to ensure that the Postal Service has every resource it needs to protect and deliver election mail and hold DeJoy and the board accountable,” Schumer said.
In testimony the previous Friday in front of a Senate committee, Postmaster General DeJoy said that he had already suspended implementation of the operational changes he has ordered until after the November 3 election. He also declared that it was his “sacred duty” and his “No. 1 priority between now and Election Day” to ensure that mailed ballots arrive on time. He assured the committee that the Postal Service “is fully capable and committed to delivering the nation’s election mail securely and on time,” and that it has adequate cash on hand to continue normal operations well into next year. Postal officials estimate that the surge of mail-in ballots will represent no more than an additional 1 to 2 percent of current total mail volume.
Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, the Republican chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, defended DeJoy and dismissed the Democrat claims of election “sabotage.” He dismissed the outcry over DeJoy’s actions as a “ginned up” effort by Democrats to rally their voters — a “political hit job.”
DeJoy has relevant prior experience acquired while he was running his family-owned trucking company, New Breed Logistics. His company had extensive contracts with the USPS, from the mid-1990s until DeJoy sold the business in 2014 for $615 million. DeJoy and his wife have a long history of donating to Republican causes, including $1.2 million to Trump’s campaign fund. DeJoy resigned as the deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee shortly before he took over as Postmaster General on June 15.
Under sharp questioning by both Republicans and Democrats during the Senate hearing, DeJoy said he found the Postal Service suffering from serious coronavirus-related delays in the processing and delivery of mail to homes and businesses across the country. They spoke about complaints they have been receiving from constituents about the late delivery of important mail, such as prescription medications, financial statements, invoices and bill payments.
DEJOY REFUSING TO ROLL BACK HIS CHANGES
DeJoy insisted that he has made considerable progress in reducing the undelivered mail backlog and eliminating the choke points in the system responsible for those delays. He also said he has no intention of reversing previous changes in Postal Service operations which he has already implemented. These include the idling of excess mail sorting equipment, the removal from street corners of underused public mail drop-boxes, and the modification of internal Postal Service delivery procedures and schedules, to reflect the continued long-term decline in the total volume of first-class and bulk rate items that is being mailed, as well as the problems created by Covid-19. He also told the senators that he has no intention of restarting use of the idled equipment because it’s “not needed.”
Earlier last week, DeJoy issued a statement declaring, “I came to the Postal Service to make changes to secure the success of this organization and its long-term sustainability. I believe significant reforms are essential to that objective, and work toward those reforms will commence after the election.” He also said that he will put additional USPS resources on standby status starting October 1 “to satisfy any unforeseen demand.”
Meanwhile, Democrat Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, who chairs the House Oversight Committee and who wrote the Postal Service bill that the House just passed, said, “The American people don’t want anyone messing with the post office. They just want their mail.” Her committee has released internal Postal Service documents which spoke about steep declines and delays in a range of mail services which began in early July, a few weeks after DeJoy took the helm.
DeJoy testified before Maloney’s committee on Monday. In his opening remarks, DeJoy admitted that some of the changes that he had implemented, such as reducing overtime, had caused delays, but that those issues are being addressed. “While we have had temporary service decline, which should not have happened, we are fixing this,” the Postmaster General said.
But Maloney was not satisfied with that answer, and said that the delays which followed DeJoy’s takeover reflect “incompetence at best.”
DeJoy’s defenders on the committee were led by North Carolina Republican Congressman Mark Walker, who accused Democrats of trying to “cancel” DeJoy for partisan reasons.
“How sad is it when the cancel culture has reached the halls of Congress,” Walker said. “The man sitting before this committee today is not who the Democrats have villainized him to be. He’s here today because he supported President Trump.”
THE UNIQUE STRUCTURE OF THE USPS
DeJoy enjoys a measure of independence from partisan political pressures from both the White House and Congress, due to the unique arrangements under a federal law passed in 1970.
DeJoy is personally answerable to a Board of Governors, nine of whose members are presidential appointees who have to be confirmed by the Senate. Those governors vote to select the Postmaster General, who then becomes the 10th member of the Board. He is responsible for the day-to-day-operations of the Postal Service and acts as its CEO.
Republicans have long sought reforms to run the USPS more like a private company, and to set its fees and service prices to reflect their actual costs. Trump has often said that the Postal Service should be charging Amazon and other shipping companies higher rates for its package deliveries to homes by USPS. Trump has complained that it makes no sense for the USPS to lose money on average, for each of those deliveries, but the substantial amount of additional income it earns from those delivery fees has helped to offset the sharp decline in first-class mail volume over the past two decades.
Drastic operating reforms to help the USPS save money have also been proposed by Democrats. In 2014, for example, a report to the Obama administration recommended the cancelation of Shabbos mail deliveries, and the use of centrally located group mailboxes as a more efficient substitute for individual home delivery, but those proposals were shot down by vehement objections raised by both Republican and Democrat members of Congress.
SOURCES OF THE USPS FISCAL PROBLEMS
When the Post Office Department was re-organized in 1970, it was hoped that it would be able to meet its operating costs, but that has not happened for many years. In fiscal year 2019, the USPS reported a loss of $8.8 billion, more than double the losses reported in 2018.
Postal authorities missed a golden opportunity in the 1980s to take a leading role in the technological transition from old-fashioned “snail mail” to faxes, email, and now social media on smartphones. The USPS never recovered from that historic mistake.
Unlike many other federal agencies, the USPS is required by law to meet its operating costs from the revenues made from mail and package deliveries. Revenue from contracts with e-commerce companies like Amazon for package deliveries has generated a larger portion of its income, but it has not been enough to compensate from the sharp decline in revenue from the delivery of first-class mail, whose use has been phased out over the last decade in favor of email. Overall mail volume peaked in 2006, at 213 billion pieces. As of last year, it was down 33%, and more than half of what remains is discounted “marketing mail.”
A May report by the Government Accountability Office estimated total USPS operating losses since 2007 at $78 billion. It also flatly declared that the “USPS’s current business model is not financially sustainable.”
The USPS business model was also damage by a 2006 law passed by Congress that requires it to prefund all current and former employee retirement and health benefits. As a result, its balance sheet now lists $160 billion in unfunded liabilities to cover those future pension and health care costs.
ELECTION LAWS ARE SET BY EACH STATE
The laws and procedures governing voting are different in each state, and are typically set individually by state legislatures and other state and local elected officials. There is an exception for some states, mostly in the Deep South, which have a well-established history of organized black voter suppression. Those states’ voting procedures are regularly subject to review by the Justice Department and federal courts, under the terms of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Democrats have been demanding that all registered voters automatically be mailed blank ballots which they can cast and mail back in to be counted. They insist that mailing blank ballots in advance to all voters is necessary this year because many voters will be afraid to take the risk of exposing themselves to infection by going to the polls in person, and where many will be forced to wait in line to cast their votes.
However, President Trump is vigorously opposed to sending out blank ballots to millions of individual voters in the mail, because it greatly increases the risk that those blank ballots could go astray, making it much easier for Democrat political operatives to perpetrate voter fraud on a huge scale during the presidential election.
Republicans have also challenged the laws in some states, including California, which permit political operatives to go door-to-door “harvesting” absentee and mail-in ballots from registered residents. The operatives are then permitted to submit the harvested ballots, en masse, to local boards of election for counting. That give the operatives an opportunity to tamper with the votes, or simply withhold envelopes they suspect contain a vote for the candidates of the opposing party.
FIVE STATES ALREADY HAVE UNIVERSAL MAIL-IN VOTING
The current procedure in most states requires registered voters to specifically request an absentee ballot in time to be received, filled it out and then mailed back in by Election Day. The exceptions to that rule are the states of Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington, where, by state law, every registered voter is automatically sent a mail-in ballot.
Election officials in those states insist that the switch to automatic mail-in balloting procedures, which took place years ago, did not result in any perceptible advantage for Republican or Democrat candidates. They also say that the percentage of mailed ballots which may have been tampered with has also remained unchanged since the transition to the automatic mail-in system.
DeJoy’s predecessor as Postmaster General, Megan Brennan, who assumed the title in 2015, and other Postal Service officials had issued warnings months ago to local and state election officials in states across the nation to adjust their announced deadlines for mail-in balloting to provide an adequate amount of time for mailed ballots to be received by voters and then mailed back to local Election Boards, given the Postal Service’s current published on-time nationwide standards for normal mail delivery, which is 2-5 days.
Typically, mailed-in ballots received up to a few days late will still be counted as valid if they are postmarked on or before Election Day, and the required signature of a registered voter on each ballot can be verified.
AN OLD DISPUTE COMING TO THE FORE
This is the latest chapter in a long, partisan dispute. Democrats have long accused Republican state elected officials of practicing voter suppression tactics in past elections, directed at poor and minority group voters in urban areas who historically tend to vote, by overwhelming majorities, for Democrat candidates.
Republicans, on the other hand, have argued that Democrats support measures that make it easier to register voters and to offer additional early voting options to make it easier for unqualified individuals to cast votes, and to enable unscrupulous Democrat political operatives to engage in organized ballot manipulation and voter fraud operations, mostly in poor and minority-populated urban neighborhoods.
In a recent discussion of the mail-in ballot problem, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie predicted that the most likely source of vote counting trouble will not come from the USPS delays in mail delivery. Christie said that he is expecting vote counting personnel in many local jurisdictions to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of mailed-in ballots, as happened in New York City on June 23, because they don’t have the specialized equipment to open and count those ballots efficiently that is used in the five states which have long had universal mail-in voting.
FLORIDA 2000 ELECTION DEJA VU THREAT
The subsequent delays in vote counting could easily result in a repeat of the month-long dispute over “hanging chads” following the extremely close 2000 presidential election in Florida. The highly emotional battle between supporters of Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush was finally resolved in Bush’s favor by a highly controversial ruling by the Supreme Court.
The highly partisan controversy cast a lasting shadow over the legitimacy of Bush’s presidency. The Florida precedent should be taken as a warning that the nation could face the same problem, due to mail-in voting, in many races, the morning after the November 3 vote, including the all-important contest between President Donald J. Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.