As the newest US Postmaster begins his new job on Monday, the US Postal Service faces a number of challenges that are all intertwined: a financial crisis, ensuring the safety and health of its workers during a pandemic and looming questions over how voting by mail will work in the general election.
Louis DeJoy, a longtime Trump supporter and fundraiser, is now tasked with heading an agency from which the President himself has threatened to withhold funding.
“I look forward to working with supporters of the Postal Service in Congress and the Administration to ensure the Postal Service remains an integral part of the United States government,” DeJoy said in a release announcing his new appointment. “It will be an incredible honor to serve as Postmaster General, and I commit myself to upholding the Postal Service’s cherished role in our nation,” he added.
DeJoy joins a Postal Service in crisis. The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the severity of already problematic finances at the USPS as mail volume has plunged. In April, the USPS told Congress it would be out of money by September and requested $75 billion in emergency funding.
Lawmakers had allocated $25 billion for the USPS in its coronavirus package, the CARES Act, in March, but the Trump administration blocked the funding, instead offering $10 billion in the form of loans and demanding “reforms” must be included as a condition of the loans.
“If they don’t raise the price, I’m not signing anything,” Trump said on April 24.
A US Postal Service spokesperson confirmed that, so far, they have not received any of the additional funding that they have requested. They would not comment on any ongoing negotiations with the Treasury Department over the loans.
The President’s attacks on the Postal Service come as the organization is managing its response to the coronavirus pandemic, and as it prepares to deal with a potential increase in mail-in voting ballots this November for the general election.
Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman, whose state conducts its elections entirely by mail, expressed concern about the Postal Service’s budget crisis, saying that it is crucial for the USPS to be properly funded in order to handle the mail-in ballots this November.
“We have states that see 2% of their ballots cast by absentee ballot in a regular election, and they’re going to see an increase anywhere from 20-25% to 60 or 70% of their ballots returned by mail,” Wyman, a Republican, told CNN. “It’s essential that the Post Office is able to deal with that increased volume.”
Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, said that receiving the emergency funding the USPS has requested is crucial for postal workers to continue doing their job, including ensuring vote by mail ballots are handled properly.
“If the funding doesn’t come through, everything we do, including vote by mail will be much harder,” Dimondstein told CNN.
Trump attacks vote by mail
The challenges for USPS come as Trump, who has himself voted by mail during his time in the White House, repeatedly takes aim at the practice, citing a number of unsupported conspiracy theories in recent months.
“The United States cannot have all Mail In Ballots,” he tweeted on May 24. “It will be the greatest Rigged Election in history. People grab them from mailboxes, print thousands of forgeries and ‘force’ people to sign. Also, forge names. Some absentee OK, when necessary. Trying to use Covid for this Scam!”
There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud associated with vote by mail.
Wyman says in Washington state, they are confident in the safety and security of their process.
“We can account for every single ballot that is mailed out and returned to election officials, and once they are in possession of those ballots they reconcile every single one and can tell down to a single ballot whether it was counted or rejected, and still maintain voter secrecy and that’s after decades of really building in the controls to make sure that system is secure,” Wyman said. Washington State has been entirely vote by mail since 2011.
Trump’s comments have drawn the condemnation of his presumptive Democratic rival in the fall, former Vice President Joe Biden.
“This is a guy who said all mail-in ballots are fraudulent, direct voting by mail, while he sits behind a desk in the Oval Office and writes his mail-in ballot to vote in the primary,” Biden said in a recent interview with Trevor Noah on The Daily Show.
Amid a pandemic
Amid the attacks, USPS officials continue to prepare for a November presidential election that will likely coincide with the continued efforts to battle an ongoing pandemic that has already killed more than 115,000 people.
With public health officials predicting that a second wave of the virus could hit in the fall, officials are concerned with how that will impact people’s ability to vote safely. As a result, millions more people could end up voting by mail.
As the political fight over expanding vote by mail continues, a officials in a number of states are working to expand access. Officials in Michigan, Nevada, California, New Hampshire and Wisconsin have all made efforts to make it easier to vote by mail in November’s election.
Five state are already entirely vote by mail: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington.
The Postal Service will be a key part of that effort, even as its economic livelihood hangs in the balance.
That’s why Wyman believes funding is not a political issue, but a critical one for all Americans.
“Let’s face it, right now Democrats could not entertain the idea that they could lose in November, and Republicans can’t entertain the idea that they could lose in November,” Wyman said. “We have to convince the losing side that it was a fair and accurate election. That’s how high the stakes are, and that’s what election officials are doing to make sure that people believe the results at the end of November.”
Trump allies in USPS leadership
As Trump has publicly criticized vote-by-mail practices, every member of the agency’s Board of Governors is now a Trump appointee. DeJoy replaced Megan Brennan, who had been in her role since 2015 and announced plans to retire last year, as the new Postmaster General. Deputy Postmaster General Ronald Stroman retired on June 1. The Board of Governors, which will include DeJoy, will select Stroman’s replacement.
DeJoy hosted a fundraiser for Trump and the Republican National Committee at his home in North Carolina in October 2017 and was in the running to be the RNC finance chairman in 2018 after serving as deputy finance chairman. He is the former CEO of New Breed logistics, which was a contractor to the USPS for over 25 years, according to a USPS press release.
Dimondstein, the president of the Postal Workers Union, says they’re watching carefully to see how DeJoy will lead, remaining hopeful he and the Board of Governors will strengthen the USPS and not try to privatize it.
“In the 1970s, after an historic postal strike, the modern post office was born, and part of what it attempted to do and what I think it has done well over decades now was to take the political process out of the postal service, how people get appointed, cronyism, patronage, and so on and so forth, and we do not want the post office to go back to those days,” Dimondstein said.