The U.S. Postal Service delivered a dire warning that Washington’s elections may face collateral damage from the agency’s ongoing machinations. A July 31 letter from USPS general counsel Thomas J. Marshall to Secretary of State Kim Wyman said there’s “a risk some ballots will not be returned by mail in time to be counted” during the fall 2020 elections.
The audacity. To even suggest the USPS will treat election ballots as anything other than cargo precious to our democracy is infuriating.
Wyman is having none of it. Even if the state needs to pay for first-class mail service, ballots will be delivered on time, she said. Wyman has pressed for and received assurances from ranking postal officials that this fall’s ballots will be USPS-delivered with customary urgency. The all-mail elections Washington’s voters cherish deserve this protection. Wyman has addressed the cynical partisan undermining with aplomb.
Washington state officials built this state’s vote-by-mail elections on the USPS efficiently getting ballots to voters. That service has proven so trustworthy over the years that county and state governments send out ballots paying mass-mail rates. That saves millions in Washington tax dollars compared to paying first-class postage to get ballots to 4.8 million registered voters. It has worked for years to provide “dependable and timely delivery of election mail,” in the words of a recent USPS bulletin.
But the cautionary letter from a top postal official must be regarded seriously as an ominous threat because of the surrounding climate. President Donald Trump has mounted incessant attacks against all-mail elections, falsely accusing them of fraudulence. These have been accompanied by diligent subversion of the Postal Service.
Special treatment is important because other mass mail can take up to 10 days to deliver. Washington voters can change their addresses up until eight days before an election and receive a mailed ballot, so a 10-day delivery delay could mean ballots aren’t received until too late.
Washington’s elections officials can work around this and buy pricey postage for the late ballots. Similarly, state voters can overcome the challenges by using county drop boxes or mailing their postage-paid envelopes extra early. But none of this ought to be necessary. The undermining of the United States Postal Service as a part of the war on accessible American elections must end immediately.
Washington was the second state to go to all-mail elections, after Oregon. Today, there are five such states and more are weighing it publicly, their decisions accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The full federal government should be working diligently to ensure the Postal Service can provide a strong foundation for this growing mail-election architecture.
But that’s not happening. The timing could not be worse. Less than three months remain before election day; less than two months remain before the first ballots reach early voters.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a prominent donor to the president’s campaigns, has ordered destructive changes — overtime reductions, facility reductions and operational shifts — that have delayed routine deliveries in at least 18 states, Reuters reported.
The voting public in states leaning hard on all-mail and absentee ballots deserves better. Federal law states that the USPS “shall provide prompt, reliable and efficient services to patrons in all areas.” Trump should be delivering resources to restore postal service, not politically weaponizing its curtailment.
The consequences are profound for by-mail elections. In 32 states, including Oregon and Idaho, a ballot delivered after Election Day won’t be counted. Washington does count late-arriving ballots, but they must be postmarked by Election Day — and getting a postmark has become a service a customer must request in many cases.
This attack on the Postal Service, from its leadership and federal officials, must end. The damage to essential institutions from this partisan war is intolerable.