A former senior official in the United States Postal Service (USPS) has warned that recent changes to the agency, now led by a Trump ally, could “give up on voters” as they take effect just months before the election. , in which a record number of Americans are expected to vote by mail.
Amid reports of significant mail delays, Ronald Stroman, who retired earlier this year as second in command at USPS, said he was concerned about the speed and timing of changes that appear to be taking effect after Louis DeJoy , the new postmaster general, took office in June. The USPS is facing a financial crisis and every postmaster general is interested in cost savings and efficiency, Stroman said, but the question was how to balance those changes with the needs of the public.
“The concern is not just that you are doing this in a pandemic, but a few months before the election with major consequences,” said Stroman, now an elderly member of the Democracy Fund. “If you can not steer the ship, if you can not correct these quickly enough, the consequence is not just, okay, people do not get their mail, is that you give up people.
“Making these changes close to the election is a high-risk proposal,” he added.
Some delays this year have been because USPS workers have been unable to work during the Covid-19 pandemic. But fears grew after DeJoy, a major Trump donor with no previous USPS experience, took over the agency. Shortly after he started in the postal service, the Washington Post and other news organizations received internal documents saying the agency was stopping overtime and that postal workers had to leave the mail back to the processing plants if that would make them to leave late.
Mark Jamison, a former North Carolina postmaster who retired from the agency in 2012, said the idea of leaving the first-class post – which includes letters with a regular stamp – was the anathema of USPS culture. “The rule has always been to be clean every first-class post from a factory every day, period,” he said. “It has never been, ever, in the 30 years I have worked for the post office, there has never been a time when you limit first-class mail.”
Philadelphia residents reported going forward for three weeks without mail, and postal workers told him the Philadelphia Inquirer mail had been piled up at local offices. Veterans and employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs have reported delays in the mail in fulfilling prescriptions. In Minneapolis, the USPS temporarily banned the delivery of mail to a high-rise building, home to many low-income residents and immigrants, over concerns about the spread of Covid-19. In April, some Wisconsin residents reported that they never received the ballots they requested for a nationwide election. Democrats in Congress have opened an investigation into the delays and urged Inspector General USPS to investigate the matter as well.
“I mean come on, we have a pandemic, you’re social distancing, people are calling in sick, are you going to cut overtime now? It just doesn’t make sense,” Jamison said. “It’s inconceivable what they’re doing.”
David Partenheimer, a USPS spokesman, said there was no blanket ban for overtime. The agency declined to say whether employees were instructed to leave the mail behind.
There is concern that the delays could last until November and give up on many Americans. Most US states require absentee ballots to arrive on election day, regardless of when the voter places them in the mail, in order to be counted. The USPS has long advised voters to post their ballots in the mail a week before election day to ensure they arrive on time to count (some states continue to allow voters to request a ballot until a few days in advance elections). At least 65,000 ballots were rejected earlier this year because they arrived too late, according to NPR.
The USPS denies it is slowing down mail, and DeJoy said the agency had “enough capacity” to deliver mail sheets on time. “While I certainly have a good relationship with the president of the United States, the notion that I would ever make decisions about the Postal Service under the direction of the president, or anyone else in the administration, is completely out of the question,” he said on Friday. a USPS board of governors meeting.
There is also a concern about the cost that different states will have to pay to send ballots. Some states send ballots as marketing mail, which is less expensive than first class mail and has an expected delivery time of three to 10 days (first class mail is usually delivered faster). In the past, the USPS has rapidly moved official election mail, regardless of service class, but in recent weeks the agency has signaled that it will not expedite election mail and election officials will receive the service they pay for.
Some Democrats have suggested that this amount is a threat to the USPS to increase mail on postal ballots, a USPS characterization strongly opposes.
“There are currently no changes pending ballot box rates and classes,” Martha Johnson, a USPS spokeswoman, said in a statement. “The unfounded assertion that we intend to raise prices before the next presidential election to limit postal voting is completely undeserved and frivolous. The postmaster general and the organization he leads are fully committed to fulfilling our role in the electoral process.”
While Stroman agreed that the agency had the capacity to handle the volume of ballot papers by mail, he said DeJoy should make it clear that ballot papers must be submitted in accordance with USPS delivery standards and be transparent about how they will be delivered. the agency addresses apparent delays ahead of the November elections.
“I would like him to say to the staff, ‘This is a priority for me, and I look forward to 100% of the ballots we have processed and submitted in line with our service standards,'” he said. statement, I think, would be important to send a signal to the workforce [that] this is your expectation and that you will set resources to make sure it happens. “
Art Sackler, manager of the Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service, an industry group representing heavy mail including Amazon and eBay, said he had heard a “mixed bag” from businesses in recent weeks, some of which have reported delays. He asked why the agency is moving forward with the changes now.
“If there is a disruption on the part of the business it would be that the timing of this would be problematic,” he said. “In the teeth of national urgency, voting is coming in November, very soon, their culminating season is coming after that. A lot of people are saying: why not do this in January?”