What You Should Know About What's Really Happening with the USPS and Your Vote

Ahead of the November election, the United States Postal Service is facing a bleak financial situation, a pandemic and controversial changes by the Trump administration


During a complicated year, one thing we probably didn't expect to be debating is the United States Postal Service. (Even Taylor Swift has weighed in on the current state of affairs.)

Confused about why the USPS has been in the news lately — and what that means for you?

Here's what you need to know about the agency's situation and how it may affect your vote in the 2020 presidential election.

What Is Going on with the USPS?

Though it's a pillar in the country's economic and social ecosystems — and is literally in the Constitution — the USPS has been suffering for some time now. That's in large part due to the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act which was passed in 2006.

The act required the Postal Service to put money aside for retiree health benefits for employees — including those who didn't even work for the agency yet. The law had a 50-year timeline, with the USPS intended to save $5 billion in the first decade. However, the agency started defaulting on its loans in 2012.

The money was simply not there. The USPS announced in November 2019 that it experienced an $8.8 billion net loss that fiscal year. Congress was getting ready to pass a bill that would halt payments to the fund when the pandemic hit.

PAUL RATJE/AFP via Getty Images

How Did the Pandemic Affect the USPS?

The agency was already understaffed at the start of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and, as previously stated, it was hemorrhaging money.

While people were social distancing and quarantining at home, the USPS saw an uptick in demand for deliveries — revenue rose by 38.0 percent in April and 57.6 percent in May in comparison to 2019, according the Institute for Policy Studies. This increase did not, however, leave the agency in the black.

The policy brief put out by the Institute for Policy Studies in July stated that the crisis has "reduced but not eliminated USPS financial losses" and "put an additional strain on an outdated USPS postal delivery fleet."

Additionally, the USPS's main source of revenue comes from first-class and marketing mail, which have been seen a decrease during the pandemic.

Not only have there been increased labor, fuel and maintenance costs, but the human cost is also very real: 17,000 postal workers — 3 percent of the work force — were reportedly quarantined as of May, and 69 postal workers had reportedly died of the virus.

As part of the CARES Act that Congress passed in March, the USPS got a $10 billion loan. Lawmakers originally agreed to a $13 billion grant (that would not need to be repaid), but the funds were tied up and the money was not made immediately available, as Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin reportedly told lawmakers, "You can have a loan, or you can have nothing at all."

Who Is Louis DeJoy?

The Postal Service is overseen by a postmaster general who is elected by a board appointed by the president. In May, the board unanimously named named business executive (and Donald Trump donor) Louis DeJoy as postmaster general and CEO.

DeJoy's selection was criticized because of both his inexperience and potential conflicts of interest, given his longstanding Republican ties and President Trump's vocal complaints about the mail at the same time that more and more voters were considering mail ballots in the pandemic.

Democrats such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren called for an investigation into DeJoy's ethics.

The new postmaster general has faced even more Democratic outcry for eliminating overtime for many USPS workers, for telling postal workers to "leave mail behind" rather than logging extra hours and for removing mailboxes around the country.

Mail sorting machines were also being removed nationwide, in what the agency insisted was routine decommissioning — though it comes ahead of a November election that is expected to see an unprecedented number of mail-in votes given the pandemic's health risks.

Despite the scrutiny, DeJoy has characterized these steps as necessary cost-cutting measures that had "unintended consequences."

After public backlash, the USPS announced earlier this month that they would pause the mailbox removal.

"We are not going to be removing any boxes," an agency spokesperson said in a statement, according to CNN. "After the election, we're going to take a look at operations and see what we need and don’t need."

This week, however, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said DeJoy told her he did not intend to put the removed mailboxes and sorting machines back. He will appear before the Senate at the end of this week and in front of the House of Representatives next week.

What Does the Trump Administration Have to Do with This?

Trump has often expressed his disapproval of mail-in voting, falsely claiming that it leads to voter fraud (though he himself has votedd by mail) and he has made it clear that he opposes the funding proposed to aid the USPS because it will improve operations — namely, the processing of mail ballots.

“Now they need that money in order to make the post office work, so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots,” he said on Fox News last week. “But if they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting, because they’re not equipped to have it.”

“They don’t have the money to do the universal mail-in voting. So therefore, they can’t do it, I guess,” Trump said at a briefing one day earlier. “Are they going to do it even if they don’t have the money?”

He added that the request for more funds is an admittance of sorts that a universal mail-in election is impossible adding:

"It'll be the greatest rigged election in history, the greatest fraud ever perpetrated ... They're admitting that they want $3.5 billion and they're not going to do a deal that's good for the American people; therefore, they're not going to get the $3.5 billion, therefore they can't do the universal mail-in vote. It's very simple. How are they going to do it if they don't have the money to do it?"

He later walked back his comments about vetoing the coronavirus stimulus bill because it included USPS funding, saying, "We want people to vote, but we want people to vote so when they vote it means one vote."

After Trump tweeted that the "Post Office could never handle the Traffic of Mail-In Votes without preparation," the agency said that they have "ample capacity to adjust our nationwide processing and delivery network to meet projected Election and Political Mail volume, including any additional volume that may result as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic."

What Can You Do to Ensure Your Vote Is Counted?

All of this background means that voting in the 2020 election is more complicated. Here are a few things you can do that the Postal Service itself suggests.

Register to vote.

Right now 40 states and Washington, D.C., allow online registration. Check for your state's deadline here.

Request a ballot to streamline the process.

While a handful of states already use widespread mail voting, many others are still deciding whether or not they will send ballots directly to residents or if they will send applications for ballots to residents.

Some are doing neither, and so you will have to request an absentee ballot if you do not want to go to the polls in person. You can check your local board of elections office to see what your state requires.

According to letters from the USPS General Counsel Thomas J. Marshall, it's suggested that voters submit their ballot request 15 days before the election at minimum, but "preferably long before that time."

Consider voting early.

Most — but not all — states offer early voting at specified polling places during various time frames. You can also drop off a mail-in ballot at your early-voting polling place if you're worried it won't be delivered in time.

The USPS warns that, due to delays and increased volume, there is a risk that all 50 states and D.C. may not get their ballots back to election offices in time to be counted.

They suggest giving their ballot at least one week to arrive by mail, making the new voting deadline Oct. 27.

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