OLYMPIA — Vote-by-mail elections could be at risk this year unless the federal government helps bolster a U.S. Postal Service that has been financially hobbled by the novel coronavirus, Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman said Wednesday.
While that could hurt Washington and four other vote-by-mail states, problems could also hamper elections across the nation. In response to the widespread outbreak of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, some states have been expanding mail balloting in an effort to minimize social interactions and keep their residents safe.
In a news conference with the Vermont Secretary of State and the president of the Postal Service’s labor union, Wyman asked the federal government to step in.
“The impact of the loss of the U.S. Postal Service in this fall’s election would be devastating on our country’s democracy,” said Wyman. “I can’t underscore that enough.
“As a state that’s been voting by mail completely since 2011, our voters depend on the United States Postal Service to deliver mail to their households here, domestically and abroad.”
The remarks by Wyman, a Republican, come as the Postal Service has been thrown in the middle of a political fight over who will get coronavirus assistance from Congress or the federal government.
As with drop-offs in other businesses, the COVID-19 outbreaks have slashed the amount of mail being sent, along with revenue for the Postal Service.
Last week, President Donald Trump threatened to block a $10-billion loan intended to help the Postal Service, unless the organization increases its shipping prices for online retailers. The president called the agency “a joke” and said it must increase shipping rates, according to a report by The Washington Post.
For Washington, Wyman said she is particularly concerned about the impact a shuttered or diminished Postal Service would have on making sure military and overseas voters get ballots on time.
She said she also worries about voters who use a post-office box as an address to receive ballots, as well as mail service in rural parts of the state.
A spokesman for the Postal Service said the agency is committed to timely delivery of mail ballots, but did not respond to questions regarding a potential funding shortfall.
Meanwhile, the agency is working to avoid any disruption of ballots being mailed to citizens overseas in light of the global COVID-19 pandemic, according to Postal Service spokesman David Rupert.
“Most of the disruptions have been initiated by the foreign postal administrations, who are currently not accepting any international mail from any country due to COVID-19 impacts,” wrote Rupert. “The situation is highly fluid, and the Postal Service continues to work with foreign postal administrations and stakeholders on viable solutions.”
While most states are not moving to strictly all-mail voting in the face of the coronavirus, many are expanding existing absentee ballots programs, or encouraging more voters to use them.
In Wednesday’s news conference, American Postal Workers Union President Mark Dimondstein said if the agency isn’t able to deliver ballots, “we won’t have an election, or any kind of fair election.”