Postal Service Warns Most States of Mail-In Ballot Delays
(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Postal Service has sent warnings to 46 states that it may not be able to deliver their ballots on time for the November election, as Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, blasted the Trump-appointed postmaster general.
Former President Barack Obama escalated the Democratic response to the mail slow-down on Friday, accusing President Donald Trump of trying to “actively kneecap the Postal Service” to suppress the vote. The nation’s mayors said Saturday that safe voting, including vote-by-mail, “must be a national priority.”
The Postal Service’s inspector general said Friday she’s opened an investigation into complaints by Democrats about cuts to mail services that have slowed delivery of mail and may imperil vote-by-mail operations. Democrats have also raised the alarm about delays to mail-order prescription drugs for seniors, military veterans, and others.
The vast majority of states are set to allow mail-in voting in response to the coronavirus pandemic, even as Trump condemns the practice almost daily, saying it’s rife with fraud, though there’s no evidence that is the case. Trump and his wife have requested mail-in ballots for Florida’s primary election, which is Tuesday, CNN reported.
Obama, who’s rarely spoken out against his successor since leaving office, pointed to Trump’s recent remarks linking his opposition to $25 billion in emergency postal funding to his fears about mail-in ballots. Trump has also said he won’t approve a request for $3.5 billion for election resources.
“That’s sort of unheard of, right?” Obama said in an interview with his former adviser, David Plouffe, on his “Campaign HQ” podcast. On Twitter, Obama urged people to vote early in states where that’s an option. Voting in some states opens in mid-September.
On Thursday, Trump said that not approving a financial lifeline for the postal service sought by Democrats would mean that “you can’t have universal mail-in voting, because they’re not equipped to have it.”
Congressional Democrats on Friday asked Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a large donor to Trump and other Republicans, to provide more information on cutbacks he ordered at the Postal Service last month. In a letter, they said the service seemed to be reversing a longstanding policy of prioritizing election-related mail.
“The Postal Service should not make changes that slow down the mail or in any way compromise service for veterans, small businesses, rural communities, seniors, and millions of Americans who rely on the mail -- including significant numbers of people who will be relying on the Postal Service to exercise their right to vote,” wrote Pelosi and five other top Democrats.
Representative Bill Pascrell, a Democrat from New Jersey, went further. He asked that his state’s attorney general launch a grand jury investigation to consider criminal indictments against Trump and DeJoy for “the subversion of New Jersey state elections.”
On Friday, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said he would order the November general election to be conducted mostly through the mail in a state that was one of the early U.S. coronavirus hot spots.
The escalation in the dispute came after the Postal Service warned election officials in 46 states and the District of Columbia that state deadlines for requesting and casting mail-in ballots were “incongruous with the Postal Service’s delivery standards.”
“This mismatch creates a risk that ballots requested near the deadline under state law will not be returned by mail in time to be counted under your laws as we understand them,” USPS lawyer Thomas Marshall said in letters released Friday under the Freedom of Information Act.
The Postal Service says voters and election officials should allow at least seven days for a ballot to go through the mail.
By that standard, more than 20 states would not leave enough time for even a one-way mailing, according to state laws compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Because many states require a voter to first request an absentee ballot by mail, the back-and-forth mailings could take 15 days or more, depending on the class of mail.
The Postal Service changes and the Trump administration’s decision to withhold funding “is alarming and should be of grave concern to us all, particularly with the general election only months away,” Louisville, Kentucky, Mayor Greg Fischer said in a statement on Saturday. Fischer, a Democrat, is president of the nonpartisan U.S. Conference of Mayors.
Protesters on Saturday marched to DeJoy’s apartment building in Washington to decry the postmaster general’s cuts. Some stuffed fake absentee ballots into the lobby door, WUSA9, the local CBS affiliate, reported.
On Friday, Pennsylvania officials cited the USPS letter in a request for a judge to extend the deadline for the state to accept mail-in ballots, which is currently Election Day.
“The Postal Service’s announcement represents a significant change to the outlook for voting by mail in the general election,” the state said in a legal filing. But prior to the letter, “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.”
Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold said her state was prepared to handle the election. She said ballots were sent out three weeks in advance, and voters could either put them in drop boxes or leave them at voting centers.
“Colorado’s election model is well situated to handle both the delivery and return of mail ballots,” Griswold said in a statement. “Starting eight days before an election we encourage voters to use one of these two options rather than the mail to ensure their ballot is received by 7 p.m. on Election Day.”
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