USPS Responds to Worries Over Vote-By-Mail

As has become all too apparent in the popular media, the viability of widespread voting by mail, and the Postal Service’s ability to timely process and deliver the associated volume, have become intertwined with other political controversies.

On one side, notably by the White House, vote-by-mail is portrayed as flawed or corrupt, and that regardless of its use, the Postal Service isn’t capable of handling the volume.  Concurrently, for that and other reasons, the administration is continuing its spiteful objection to any funds for the USPS being included in a COVID-related relief bill.

On the other side, persons typically opposed to the administration are extrapolating resistance to vote-by-mail to not only claim it’s a strategy to influence voter turnout (and, presumably, the election’s results) but an attack on democracy itself – and that the USPS is being made a tool in that effort.

Somewhere in the middle are the facts, but no-one in politics or the media seems to be paying them much attention.

Crossfire

Caught in this debate is the Postal Service.  In “normal” times, the use of the mail for voting wouldn’t be cause for concern.  However, these are not-so-normal times, with popular opinion very polarized politically, a new PMG with ties to the president, and well-publicized financial and service challenges facing the USPS; all are prompting questions whether vote-by-mail would be a task that the USPS can execute competently and without external influence.

An example of this angst is an August 12 editorial in USA Today that reviewed the political debate about voting by mail, then added opinions about the Postal Service:

“… The US Postal Service will be the linchpin of a successful 2020 presidential election, particularly now with broader vote-by-mail procedures in place allowing nearly 180 million Americans, or at least 76% of the electorate, to cast ballots from home.

“Postal workers process more than 425 million pieces of mail a day, and they already provide priority sorting to mailed ballots, so there's little doubt they can handle expanded mail-in voting.  The only question is how fast.  Stricken with its own COVID-19 casualties (75 dead, 8,100 infected and 44,000 quarantined), the Postal Service is short on manpower and losing cash from a downturn in first-class mail.

“Trump has called the service a ‘joke’ and wants it privatized.  A new postmaster general, fervent Trump supporter and megadonor Louis DeJoy, has frozen hiring, reduced overtime and curtailed transportation – steps workers say is slowing mail delivery.

“Could this be a recipe for disaster come Nov. 3?  It doesn’t have to be.  There are steps state and local election officials, the Postal Service and voters can take to make each vote count. …”

The article then detailed how election boards need to be more aware of the calendar to get ballots in the mail and allow for their return, should there be delays either way.  However, the writer also chose to use comments from craft workers to support the premise that DeJoy’s efforts to trim overtime were meant to delay mail and votes.

Attempted answers

At the Board of Governors meeting earlier this month, new PMG Louis DeJoy sought to placate critics and assure voters that his agency would be up to the task of making vote-by-mail work as intended. 

Perhaps to deliver that message more broadly, David Williams (former COO and now Chief Logistics and Processing Officer) and USPS General Counsel Tom Marshall wrote a letter (below) to the editor of USA TodayIt also appeared in the August 12 issue, captioned as “opposition” to the comments of the newspaper’s editorialist.


The US Postal Service is well prepared and has ample capacity to deliver America’s election mail for the upcoming general election in November.

On any given day, the Postal Service delivers more than 425 million pieces of mail, and our best estimates are that election mail will account for less than 2% of all mail volume from mid-September until Election Day.  Given our available processing capacity, we can easily handle the anticipated increase in election mail due to the COVID-19 pandemic, without impact to on-time performance.

In recent weeks, the Postal Service has taken steps to improve our efficiency – including ensuring that our trucks meet operational deadlines and requiring that overtime be earned as the result of unexpected volume or other factors, pursuant to our normal overtime analysis – which is vital given our financial situation.  Contrary to media accounts and other accusations, there have been no edicts to delay the mail or eliminate overtime.  Rather, we are ensuring that our operations run on time and on schedule, which will avoid unnecessary overtime and transportation costs.  We are making these changes methodically and in ways designed to ensure the timely and cost-effective delivery of America’s mail – including election mail.

The Postal Service remains fully committed to fulfilling our role in the electoral process by doing everything we can to handle and deliver election mail, including ballots, in a timely manner consistent with our operational standards.

The only concerns we have about the upcoming election is that many states have designed their election systems without considering the ordinary time frames required by the Postal Service to process and deliver mail.  For that reason, throughout this year, we have worked closely with election officials regarding our mailing requirements, delivery standards and best practices for enabling voting by mail.

In particular, we are asking election officials and voters to realistically consider how the mail works – and to be mindful of our delivery standards – in order to provide voters ample time to cast their votes through the mail.

And we look forward to continued coordination with election officials through November.


Given the dearth of letter mail these days, there’s little reason to doubt the USPS has the capacity to process election mail, but only the agency (not USA Today) knows the facts about its ability to match its assurances with results.  Factors beyond its control – COVID-related absenteeism and transportation delays – can foul even well-laid plans, and workers still need to want to do a good job, regardless of what their unions may be saying to advance their own political agendas.

In some ways, of course, the Postal Service is facing a no-win situation.  Somewhere, somehow, candidate mail or ballots will be misdirected or late being delivered, and those few instances will be used as evidence in the larger political feud from which the Postal Service can’t seem to escape.


Are you concerned about how the future of the USPS will impact your business and the industry? How you will find information? Answers? Solutions? Let us help. 

 

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