At any other time, a delay in mail delivery could keep people from getting medicine or a paycheck. This year, with so many people choosing the safety of mail-in ballots, a delay could get in the way of someone’s constitutional rights.

Thousands of ballots tossed out solely because of entirely avoidable delays in the U.S. Postal Service would be a nightmare for democracy. But because of what are being sold as “cost-cutting” measures, it is an increasing likelihood, putting the conduct of the November election at risk.

Quietly, post offices across the country have cut back on hours with little or no notice. Some are closing early, or during lunch, one of the busiest times during the day. The USPS reportedly was also considering a plan to close many branches altogether.

In addition, postal workers have been prohibited from taking overtime when it is required to get the mail out on schedule. Bosses are shutting down sorting machines early and telling carriers to leave mail behind on later rounds, so that mail sits in the post office for an extra day.

With each day, the logjam is building, forcing tradeoffs that harm the people who depend on the postal service. Letter carriers in the Portland office, which serves as many as 100,000 households, report that Amazon packages are given priority over first-class and priority mail, as the offices simply don’t have the time to get them all out.

Overtime has been necessary in part because the postal service is understaffed, the result of a decades-long push to gut the service by people who want to see it gutted then privatized.

Still, those workers delivered important packages and letters, at a good price and on time, all around the country.

Now these latest measures by the Trump administration have put that in jeopardy. The USPS, run since June by a major Trump donor with no postal service experience, say the cuts are necessary to bring financial solvency to the service, which has lost $9 billion last year.

But even that loss is mostly a fiction. Because of a 2006 law, the USPS must prepay its health care costs for retirees 50 years into the future, unprecedented for any such agency. A postal workers union found that the law is responsible for 92% of the service’s losses since 2007, and that without it the USPS would have made hundreds of million of dollars in profit over the last five years.

When given the proper resources and left alone to do its job, the USPS does it well, and it is relied upon by millions of Americans on a daily basis. We are seeing that pulled apart in front of our eyes.

But with President Trump launching baseless attacks at the postal service and mail-in voting, even calling for the election to be delayed, it is reasonable to worry that something more nefarious may be behind the changes.

Postal delays have been reported specifically in the battleground states of Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. If the president believes his opponents use mail-in voting more than his supporters, which appears to be the case, then he would have reason to slow down mail in those states, hoping that ballots arrive too late to be counted.

In any case, we are watching the postal service get picked apart. At any time, that would be bad news for Americans. Right now, in the middle of a pandemic, it’s a threat to democracy.

 


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