Terry H. Schwadron

Sept. 3, 2020

So, where are we on the mail-ballots issue?

After a couple of congressional hearings, insider reports and promises from Postmaster Louis DeJoy that election mail is safe, we still don’t really know.

There is a new audit of election mail processing out from the U.S. Postal Service’s inspector general that says there are plenty of trouble spots as shown in how the mail was handled in several primary elections held in May and June. Overall, it insists that Postal Service management needs better coordination with state election officials over differing delivery calendars and attention to such things as proper bar coding of election-related mail.

Despite assurances from DeJoy that there is nothing to worry about, the name-calling and finger-pointing here persists.

More generally, Donald Trump still thinks mail ballots are open to widespread fraud, despite multiple investigations, court cases, and words from his own postmaster. That, of course, is because Trump wants fewer people who do not intend to support him to vote.

Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Carolyn Maloney, chair of the House Government Oversight Committee so distrust DeJoy’s promises that they are spoiling to start formal subpoena and enforcement procedures against the postmaster.

Democrats are freaking out over whether Election Night will look like a Trump victory with only in-person votes counted.

Unions representing postal workers still say the mail is backed up, and groups representing seniors, veterans, health organizations all see non-election dependencies for Soeial Security checks and prescription drugs as hanging in the balance.

Assessing the Problem

This disagreement encapsulates a lot about the presidential election: Trump raises a bugaboo devoid of facts and may indeed be pressuring the postal service to slow mail, but once challenged, nothing happens to fix a reported problem properly.

This administration is big on shouting and near-silent on solutions, whether the issue is virus or health care or racism and the instances of street violence we’ve seen.

You can’t fix anything if you don’t know what’s wrong. DeJoy says posted images and postal service documents that detail a slowdown in delivery are either wrong, or started before he was named postmaster in June as an outwardly political appointment, or that none of the removal of postal boxes or automated mail sorters will affect timely delivery of returned mail-in ballots.

So, hearing that the is a new inspector general report from someone in a position to know comes as good news. The audit of election mail processing identifies that there are problems in dropped bar codes used for tracking, ballot designs that impede processing, election mail sent too close to Election Day to assure timely deliveery, differing postmark requirements for ballots and outdated voter addresses. Mail ballot rules have been expanded in 18 states and in Washington, D.C. to allow voting from home during a pandemic, and most states have also expanded early voting hours.

Nearly 180 million are eligible to cast mail or absentee ballots in the general election. In July, the Postal Service warned 46 states and D.C. that it could not guarantee all mailed ballots would arrive in time to be counted for the Nov. 3 vote, a statement that DeJoy has had to walk back.

The audit reviewed special and primary elections in five states, and found that about 8% of mail were not delivered on time. The audit put the responsibility on management inattention.

Best Advice

So, regardless of whether Trump gives DeJoy a medal or the House has DeJoy censured for bad behavior, we’re left adrift here with the bad choice of standing in line against advice for safe voting or risking these yahoos losing our vote.

For voters, the best advice is to obtain and mail ballots at least 15 days before Election Day — or vote in person early. Postal managers were advised to work with state officials to create a separate, simplified mail ballot that can be handled uniformly — an interesting thing to say 60 days before Election Day, and something that drew pushback from postal managers.

Of course, the audit does not reflect operational changes implemented by DeJoy to drop overtime hours and hasten processing changes — now suspended. The Office of Inspector General said it would investigate those cost-cutting changes in response to a congressional request.

Meanwhile, the election campaigns are roiled over the prospects that Trump could have what looks to be a victory on Election Night because all the votes have not been counted, says a new Bloomberg News report. This reflects an assumption, as seen in primaries, that more Democrats than Republicans are using mail ballots. Of course, were Biden to win a majority of in-person votes, that would quiet his opponents.

Any chance for an impatient Donald Trump to declare premature victory will end up in multiple court battles for which the campaigns are already lining up armies of lawyers.

Lost in all this, of course, is you and me, who care and depend on postal service, but who also would like some straight information about the status of postal services without the pollution of politics.

And some problem-solving.



Journalist, musician, community volunteer