Editor’s Note: David A. Andelman, Executive Director of The RedLines Project, is a contributor to CNN where his columns won the Deadline Club Award for Best Opinion Writing. Author of “A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today,” and the forthcoming “A Red Line in the Sand: Diplomacy, Strategy and a History of Wars That May Still Happen,” he was formerly a foreign correspondent for The New York Times and CBS News in Europe and Asia. Follow him on Twitter @DavidAndelman. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
President Donald Trump is doing his darndest to make sure that Americans’ mail-in ballots won’t get to the finish line in time to be counted, including most recently opposing much-needed funding for the US Postal Service. But there’s a way to make sure he doesn’t override the right to vote.
Put a 55-cent stamp on every mail-in ballot. I’m calling it “The 55-Cent Campaign.” And consider it, now, officially launched.
In May, the United States Postal Service’s Board of Governors appointed one of the President’s cronies and major campaign donors, Louis DeJoy, as Postmaster General. Since its founding in 1775, with Benjamin Franklin as the first Postmaster General, the postal service has been the oldest, most apolitical government organ (though in 1971 it was hived off to become a more independent, self-financing entity).
Since DeJoy’s arrival, however, Trump has done his best to undermine the postal service’s abilities. And, on Thursday, Trump effectively admitted that he was doing his best to fix the election by keeping the postal service from sourcing the funds it needs to facilitate the scale of mail-in ballots likely needed for this election.
“They [the Postal Service] don’t have the money to do the universal mail-in voting. So therefore, they can’t do it, I guess,” Trump said earlier in the week. “Are they going to do it even if they don’t have the money?”
Indeed, the postal service may not have the money now, especially since Trump has said he won’t approve $25 billion in emergency funding for the USPS, or $3.5 billion in supplemental funding for election resources that Democrats wanted written into the next coronavirus relief package, which is still in limbo.
While DeJoy has said that election mail will not be slowed and that it has “ample capacity” to handle mail-in ballots, some of his cost-cutting moves, as well as comments by other postal officials, suggest that he has effectively ensured Americans’ ballots do not get to their destination on time.
Most election mail carries the third-class or bulk rate of 20 cents, which can take as long as 10 days to reach its destination. First-class mail takes two to five days, maximum. Until now, the postal service has treated election mail, including voter registration materials, voter information, ballot requests and the ballots themselves as first-class, no matter how much or how little postage they carry.
According to the New York Times, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said DeJoy had “informed some states that they may need to pay a first-class rate to deliver ballots rather than the normal rate — nearly tripling the cost.” According to the newspaper, the postal service said DeJoy’s comments were merely a suggestion for local election officials seeking to curb costs, not an on official mandate.
But there’s a way to utterly frustrate DeJoy’s suggestion.
Every voter should put a 55-cent stamp on his or her return envelope, no matter if it is already pre-printed with bulk postage by their election board. Political organizations, political action committees (PACs) and community groups should buy 55 cent stamps to distribute for mail-in-ballot return. A 55-cent stamp automatically overrides other lesser postage on the envelope and forces it to go first class – hopefully arriving in plenty of time to be counted.
But what about getting that ballot to you in the first place? Thanks to the pandemic, states already have their backs to the wall, without the new and added burden of funds for mass mailings, outbound, with first-class postage.
So it’s time for major donors to step in. The concept of donating to help out this process is on a state-by-state basis. Some states, like Illinois, according to Matt Dietrich, spokesman for the Illinois Board of Elections, actually allow political parties or PACs access to their voter registration rolls to send out mail-in-ballot requests. So, what’s needed is big money to subsidize such programs wherever possible, to put first-class postage on each registration or application.
Mike Bloomberg, as of June 30, had already spent $1,089,302,159 by himself on elections. That’s 1,980,550,034 first-class stamps – or six stamps for every man, woman and child in America. How about if Jeff Bezos with his net worth of $114 billion, Bill Gates with $106 billion, Warren Buffett with $80.8 billion, or Mark Zuckerberg with $69.6 billion, chipped in?
Between requesting and mailing ballots, if four stamps are required (roundtrip for applications and ballots), then the “The 55-Cent Campaign” needs to raise at least $191,336,986 (to cover the number of voters who cast ballots for president in 2016 –136,669,276). That’s less than 20% of what Bloomberg alone has already spent in this election cycle.
So, I’ve thrown down the gauntlet. Let’s all pitch in now to help our postal service do the right thing.