On Thursday, President Trump escalated his war on the U.S. Postal Service, which has already been struggling to meet elevated needs under the tightened constraints of a deadly pandemic. Appearing on Fox Business, the president confirmed his plans to starve the USPS of $25 billion in sorely needed funding that Democrats had pitched as part of coronavirus relief negotiations.
“They need that money in order to make the post office work, so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots” come November, Trump said. “If they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting because they’re not equipped.”
For months, Trump – who, incidentally, just requested his own mail-in ballot for Florida’s primary election – has worked to undermine the legitimacy of voting by mail, the safest option for much of the country to cast their ballots amid a pandemic. The president has characterized “mail ballots” as “very dangerous for this country because of cheaters” and as “fraudulent in many cases.” These claims are unfounded: The data we have on mail-in voting suggests it carries a fraud rate of 0.00006 percent.
Amid Trump’s constant criticism of the public service, reports have begun to emerge of mail-sorting machines mysteriously disappearing from post offices, and photos have begun circulating online of USPS trucks removing mailboxes in Manhattan, Portland, and Eugene, Oregon. In May, Trump appointed one of his more generous donors, businessman Louis DeJoy, to the position of postmaster general; late last week, DeJoy reshuffled leadership within the agency, giving himself broader power and ousting many career officials from their long-held roles. DeJoy had already implemented measures like eliminating overtime and capping workers’ hours, hobbling their ability to deliver the mail, which smelled a lot like obstruction on the Trump administration’s part.
But to come right out and say you’re building bureaucratic barriers between voters and the polls? It sure sounds like an admission to voter suppression – “political sabotage,” as Philip F. Rubio, an expert on the U.S. Postal Service and professor of history at North Carolina A&T State University, put it to Politico. Here’s what you can do about it, and what you should know.
The USPS is a vital service
Setting aside the election implications, the USPS is also vital for rural communities and tribal lands, which (particularly in an absence of broadband) often require affordable service to stay connected to the rest of the country and access outside resources where UPS and FedEx won’t deliver. Limiting the agency’s capabilities promises to have an outsized impact on Black and Latinx people living in low-income, remote areas, and on residents with disabilities and elderly people who rely on the USPS to deliver their daily medications, and in a pandemic, PPE. The USPS also happens to be the single largest employer of veterans in the country. In cutting off service, Trump is jeopardizing those jobs in the middle of a staggering national employment crisis.
Which means it’s time to call your representatives
Unfortunately, though, Congress is currently on an ill-timed August recess, to return in September. The House has written DeJoy a strongly worded letter and scheduled a hearing with him for September 17. But as Slate points out, the election is (as of August 14) 81 days aways, while the hearing date “is [a] five full weeks from now. Nearly half the margin of time between now and Election Day will have been lost by then.” So you can call your representatives – here’s how to do that – at both their Capitol Hill and regional offices; you can write letters (see this petition for sample ideas on what to say). But given that your reps and senators technically aren’t working right now, the most effective way to reach them may be via social media: flooding their Twitter timelines with demands for concrete details on an action plan to combat mail-in voting suppression, as an example.
Policies around mail-in voting are made at a state level, and while all states provide for some degree of mail-in voting, some restrict the practice more than others. Familiarize yourself with the policies in your state and contact your local representatives to push for expanded voting options. When We All Vote suggests asking for multiple options to request, receive, and return mail-in ballots; early in-person voting; and online voter registration. In some states, election officials have asked for extended deadlines to count ballots that arrive by mail, provided they’re postmarked by November 3. Pennsylvania has just agreed to an extension, a model you might discuss with your lawmakers.
Buy some stamps
If you have some cash to spare, maybe spend it on stamps, profits from which help float the USPS. Back in April, enough people pulled together to buy stamps as a means of emergency funding that they crashed the USPS site. It’s a small action, but small actions can also add up.
Familiarize yourself with the deadlines in your state
Do your research early: One of the concerns about inundating an already-ailing postal service with a huge crush of ballots is that their delivery could get delayed, and ultimately, that lost or waylaid ballots may not be counted. With that in mind, familiarize yourself with your state’s deadlines (all of which are available here) well ahead of time to help spread out the influx and avoid a bottleneck on election day.
Push for more ballot drop-off boxes
The USPS isn’t the only vehicle for mailing in your ballot: In states like Oregon, which are already accustomed to robust mail-in voting numbers, voters can drop their ballots in designated collection boxes managed by election officials, taking some heat off the postal service. Typically, drop boxes have a surveillance system trained on them to avoid malfeasance, and they have worked well in the states and cities that have used them – which may explain resistance from Republicans and Trump. When you call your reps, consider pressing to support increased drop box numbers and insisting boxes go up in your area.
If you feel comfortable doing so, volunteer as a poll worker
The coronavirus pandemic has added additional strain to poll worker numbers and created backlogs and long lines in several state primaries. If you are not in a high-risk category for COVID-19 and you do not come into regular contact with anyone who is, consider volunteering as an election worker. More information on what that entails and who’s eligible here.
Get involved with an organization working against voter suppression
Again, what Trump is proposing looks uncannily like voter suppression. There are a number of organizations that were already working to thwart obstructive tactics on the ground, even before the war on USPS began. Here are some national options you could support (the American Bar Association also has a list), but research what activists have planned in your area – if you feel you can do so safely, you might consider helping to transport voters to the polls or working on a registration drive.
* Fair Fight, Stacey Abrams’s organization aiming to “promote fair elections in Georgia and around the country, encourage voter participation in elections, and educate voters about elections and their voting rights.”
* When We All Vote, “a non-profit, nonpartisan organization that is on a mission to increase participation in every election and close the race and age voting gap.”
* Common Cause, an organization that works to expand voting rights, combat gerrymandering, and in a pandemic, make sure everyone still has access to the ballot box.
* Election Protection, a nonpartisan coalition that works year-round to provide voters nationwide “with comprehensive information and assistance at all stages of voting – from registration, to absentee and early voting, to casting a vote at the polls, to overcoming obstacles to their participation.”
* Voto Latino, “a grassroots political organization focused on educating and empowering a new generation of Latinx voters, as well as creating a more robust and inclusive democracy.”
* League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan organization that “encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy.”
* Indivisible, a grassroots movement of thousands of local groups that take regular actions to thwart all manner of Trumpian civil-rights violations and to elect progressive candidates.
Sign a petition
Surprise, surprise, there are a number of petitions you can sign:
* A Change.org petition that also includes information on other actions you can take, like, for example, texting USPS to Resistbot (50409).
* Another Change.org petition to “Save the USPS.”
* A Common Cause petition to “Save the U.S. Postal Service.”
* A MoveOn petition to “Fully Fund the U.S. Postal Service.”
* Another MoveOn petition to “Tell Congress to Save Our Postal Service.”
* A White House petition to “Save the United States Postal Service.”