To be clear, the request here isn’t to let Pennsylvania voters mail ballots after polls close. They need to be postmarked before then. The request is to have the court extend the deadline for when ballots need to be received in order to be counted, which by law is 8 p.m. on Election Day. Right now, the Postal Service recommends that ballots be mailed a full week before Election Day, i.e. October 27, in order to ensure that they’re received on time. But Pennsylvania law allows voters to *apply* for a ballot up until October 27. That means many voters won’t even have ballots in hand until after the USPS’s recommended deadline.
Ah well. It’s not like Pennsylvania’s an important swing state.
The U.S. Postal Service has warned Pennsylvania that some mail ballots might not be delivered on time because the state’s deadlines are too tight for its “delivery standards,” prompting election officials to ask the state Supreme Court to extend the deadlines to avoid disenfranchising voters…
[Postal Service general counsel Thomas] Marshall’s letter represented “a significant change to the outlook for voting by mail in the general election,” the Department of State told the court in its filing. Before the July 29 warning, the department said, “the Postal Service had not indicated the likelihood of widespread, continuing, multiple-day mail-delivery delays presenting an overwhelming, statewide risk of disenfranchisement for significant numbers of voters utilizing mail-in ballots.”…
Some counties set up drop boxes in the primary election so voters could hand-deliver their ballots without relying on the mail. But the Trump campaign and Republican National Committee have sued the state to block drop boxes from being used in November.
It’s not just Pennsylvania:
The @USPS is sending letters to some states warning mail-in ballots may not be delivered in time to be counted in the Presidential election because their deadlines are too tight.
So far @CBSNews has confirmed Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Michigan—all critical swing states.
— Weijia Jiang (@weijia) August 14, 2020
Looming behind the Postal Service’s admission that it might not be able to deliver ballots on schedule is Trump’s admission that he opposes new funding for the USPS in the next round of stimulus relief because it’ll encourage universal mail-in voting. Every logistical problem encountered by the Postal Service will be viewed through that prism going forward. Is the USPS making an earnest effort to cope with the logistics of millions of mailed ballots? Or is there a deliberate slowdown being engineered by new postmaster general Louis DeJoy to serve Trump’s agenda, either by discouraging people from voting by mail or disenfranchising people who do so by increasing the risk that their ballots will arrive late?
The suspicions have produced media reports like this one from Vice, which is long on dark possibilities but short on actual evidence of chicanery.
The United States Postal Service is removing mail sorting machines from facilities around the country without any official explanation or reason given, Motherboard has learned through interviews with postal workers and union officials. In many cases, these are the same machines that would be tasked with sorting ballots, calling into question promises made by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy that the USPS has “ample capacity” to handle the predicted surge in mail-in ballots…
“I’m not sure you’re going to find an answer for why [the machines being removed] makes sense,” said Iowa Postal Workers Union President Kimberly Karol, “because we haven’t figured that out either.”
Aha! Trump and DeJoy are starting to deliberately hobble mail processing facilities so that they can’t process ballots, which are highly likely to lean Democratic since most Dems say they intend to vote by mail this year. Except that … even Vice isn’t sure there’s anything nefarious to this. The site identified 19 sorting machines across five facilities that have been removed, but “the Postal Service operates hundreds of distribution facilities around the country, so it is not clear precisely how many machines are getting removed and for what purpose.” It’s “nothing new” for machines to be moved around, Vice notes, “but this time it seems to be more widespread.” Seems? Some of the USPS workers they interviewed even admitted that, logistically, it sometimes make sense to move machines from one facility to another. In this case, the reason for removal may be as simple as the fact that there’s less mail to process during the pandemic than normal.
But wait. Even if they don’t have a lot of mail now, they will in two months when the ballots start flowing in, right? Eh, not really. An election is peanuts for the Postal Service relative to the crush of Christmas season, when Christmas cards by the billions are circulating. This Atlantic piece is worth your time as a sober view of just how much of a crisis the Postal Service is and isn’t facing on Election Day — er, Week:
The president’s claims about the Postal Service’s existing capabilities are off base, according both to the agency itself and to outside analysts and voting experts. The Postal Service has been preparing for expanded vote-by-mail for months, before the coronavirus pandemic cast doubt on the safety of in-person voting and long before DeJoy took office as the nation’s 75th postmaster general in June. The agency began its outreach to 11,500 election administrators in March, and hundreds of regional election-mail coordinators regularly consult with state and county officials on everything from the dates they plan to send out ballots to the design of the envelopes themselves…
From a sheer numbers perspective, none of the experts I spoke with doubted that the Postal Service could handle a vote-by-mail election, even if every one of the nation’s more than 150 million registered voters stuck their ballot in a mailbox. As one noted to me, a presidential election might be a big deal, but in postal terms, it’s no Christmas. The Postal Service processes nearly 500 million pieces of mail every day, and it annually handles more than 3 billion pieces in the week before Christmas alone. “I don’t worry about their capacity,” Amber McReynolds, the former director of elections in Denver, who now runs the National Vote at Home Institute, a mail-balloting advocacy group, told me.
They have the money to do it too, as they’re not expected to run out until next year. What has workers worried, reportedly, is that some of the guidance they’ve been given lately on how to carry out their duties has changed. Instead of waiting around to make sure all of the day’s mail is picked up, processed, and shipped out, they claim they’re being told to leave whatever’s left to do at the end of their shift for the following day, which could produce key delays in processing ballots that are sent shortly before the deadline.
Trump’s comments yesterday tying USPS performance to the election were so alarming, though, that any type of slowdown in service will now be viewed as potential political interference in the vote. The Oregonian reported yesterday that some mailboxes around the city had been removed by the Postal Service. Was that because Trump and DeJoy are trying to make it harder to vote? Given that Oregon isn’t in play this fall, I’m guessing … no. We removed them because some boxes have become redundant in their neighborhoods now that there’s less mail to deliver, said the USPS. Even so, Democrats are ready for war over mail delays:
1) Prime time hearings, now.
2) Subpoenas to Trump WH and camp officials. This is a RICO case
3) Visit local post offices with cameras – show people what is happening.
4) Events with those getting Rx late
5) Involve governors
5) No rest, no vacation. Go to war for our country.
— David Plouffe (@davidplouffe) August 14, 2020
Trump backed off his comments to some degree last night, telling reporters that he wouldn’t veto a relief bill that included more money for the Postal Service, but nothing’s going to ease the paranoia that chicanery’s afoot at the USPS after he linked his opposition to funding to mail-in ballots. Which, I think, means Democrats are going to shift their strategy on mail-in voting in one or more ways. One possibility is that they’ll simply start encouraging people to vote in person instead. NYT columnist Jamelle Bouie has already made that case, reasoning that the only way to stop Trump from crying that he’s been cheated by mail ballots is to have Dems show up and vote the old-fashioned way on November 3 instead. It’s probably less risky from a health standpoint than everyone assumes.
Relatedly, Dems are going to go all out on getting people to vote early, whether by mail or in person. Obama’s already beating the drum:
O: "If you are in a state where you have the option to vote early, you need to do that now. The more votes that are in early, the less likely you're going to see a last-minute crunch both at polling places and in those states where mail-in ballots are permitted."
— Dave Catanese (@davecatanese) August 14, 2020
It wouldn’t surprise me to find top Dems from O and Biden on down soon warning people that the “real” Election Day this year is October 23. That’s the day after the final presidential debate; most voters will have a solid sense by then of whom they prefer. If Biden still leads in the polls at that point, as Democrats expect, it’s actually to their advantage to spook people into believing that their ballot won’t be counted unless it’s sent waaaaaay earlier than they’d normally send it. The more they can bank votes for Biden while he’s leading nationally, the more they hedge against any gamechanging last-minute surprises in Trump’s favor, like Comey’s Emailgate letter in 2016. That’s an obvious way Trump’s reluctance to fund the Postal Service could backfire on him: If the electorate writ large becomes convinced that their vote won’t count unless it’s cast by, say, mid-October, then Trump doesn’t have two and a half months to erase Biden’s lead. He has two months. Those last few weeks will be lost because too many people are worried about the USPS to allow themselves to make their presidential choice in the election’s final days.
Beyond that, it’s just terrible politics to be let oneself be seen as reluctant to fund the post office because you personally might be “cheated” somehow by it, particularly when most of the public supports the form of voting which the president opposes. “Trump won’t fund the Postal Service because he’s afraid he’ll lose!” is a potentially potent message for Dems in more than one way:
USPS defends capacity to deliver mail-in ballots, noting it estimates election mail will account for 2% of mail volume for Sept to November. By not funding USPS, all of that other 98% – medicine, bills, checks, etc – is affected https://t.co/EfjfqylPe1
— Sam Levine (@srl) August 14, 2020
You don’t want senior citizens pissed off that their medicine has been delayed because they’ve been led to believe, rightly or wrongly, that Trump cares more about stopping Democrats from voting than he does about them getting their mail on time.
I’ll leave you with this outside-the-box idea, suggested by various people on social media: What if Amazon (and FedEx and UPS) volunteered to help out by delivering ballots? If Bezos wants revenge on Trump for all of his anti-Amazon, anti-WaPo comments (and not just comments), that’s one way to get it and earn some good PR for the company too.
Update: Yeah, well.
JUST IN: National Association of Letter Carriers, a union that boasts nearly 300,000 active and retired postal workers, endorses Joe Biden, warning that the “survival” of USPS is at stake. https://t.co/3BditcQaBa
— NBC News (@NBCNews) August 14, 2020
Update: It’s not just Pennsylvania and a few others that received letters from Marshall about missing ballot deadlines. Nearly every state in the country has received one, WaPo reports. We’re about to witness a massive push for early voting. If there’s a Trump comeback in the cards, it had better start soon.