USPS: The fight over its funding, concerns over its ability to handle November mail-in ballots

Hosted by

There’s growing concern over whether the U.S. Postal Service will be able to handle the mass move toward voting by mail this November because of the pandemic. Photo by Amy Ta.

The U.S. Postal Service told officials in nearly every state late last week that it couldn’t guarantee all November mail-in ballots would arrive in time to be counted. Over the weekend, activists protested outside Poster Master General Louis DeJoy’s Washington D.C. home, some with signs calling him “the Postmaster Saboteur." Reports have been saying that sorting machines have been removed by USPS and postal hours have been cut. 

DeJoy has now agreed to testify next Monday before the House Oversight Committee. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called House lawmakers back to Washington this week for hearings on the growing crisis. The House could potentially pass legislation to address some of the U.S. Postal Service’s problems. But it’s unclear if the Senate would take up that legislation when it returns in September.   

Washington Post business reporter Jacob Boggage says USPS should already be equipped to handle the volume of mail-in ballots, and the USPS is taking 671 high-speed mail sorting machines offline between now and the end of August, which is 10% of its inventory of machines. 

He says 671 sounds like a big number, but USPS has had excess capacity for a long time, and the machine removals have predated the new postmaster general. 

Boggage says the two policy changes that are most concerning are the crackdown on overtime hours and the prohibition on making extra trips to deliver mail on time.

“If these cost-cutting measures create backlogs, what's going to get caught up in the backlog? And potentially could that be ballots? That's the main concern,” he says. 

Democrats suspect that this is all being done to help Trump win reelection, noting that Louis DeJoy was a big contributor to Donald Trump’s last campaign. So how much of this is timed to coincide with the election — versus how much was going to happen anyway to address financial problems?

“The mailbox removals, the Postal Service told me that this is routine, that we remove mailboxes from low volume areas. But they also said it’s on a case by case basis,” he says. 

He continues, “It's hard to line up all the cards to definitively say that this is being done to impact the election because a lot of this stuff has predated the Postal Service, which frankly just needs to cut costs. But it doesn't mean it won't make facilitating the election more difficult.”

Last week, President Trump said he’d withhold funding for USPS to make it tougher for the workers to process mail-in ballots. Democrats want to boost funding for USPS. Where do the two sides stand now? 

“We're edging toward some sort of compromise deal, but that could change any minute. The White House started to soften, it seems, a little bit on providing some more funding. For the Postal Service, Democrats in the House want $25 billion. The White House has come back as $10 billion. So maybe we'll get somewhere in that range,” says Boggage. 

— Written by Amy Ta, produced by Angie Perrin