Facing increasingly unfavorable poll numbers, Trump has clearly decided the only way he can win reelection is to cheat. Trump has ramped up attacks on the post office, including the removal of mail sorting machines, in a naked attempt to suppress mail-in voting in the middle of a pandemic. As calls for investigation and accountability grow among lawmakers, the public has begun to take direct action to save the post office — and the election itself — from Trump’s desperate and corrupt power grab.
The post office has long been a conservative target. President George W. Bush signed into law the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which required the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) to pre-fund retiree health benefits 75 years into the future, an absurd requirement which no other agency has been forced to follow. But Trump has taken USPS sabotage to new heights, including by appointing businessman Louis DeJoy as postmaster general of the USPS. DeJoy is a major Trump donor, giving nearly $450 million to Trump’s inauguration, Victory Fund, and the Republican National Committee (RNC). He’s also in frequent contact with top Republican Party officials and met with Trump the first week of August prior to his meeting with Democratic leadership.
DeJoy has enacted and overseen multiple policies that will put both the viability of the Post Office and the integrity of the November election at risk. On August 7, DeJoy displaced two top executives at the USPS and reassigned 23 others, in a move critics called a “Friday night massacre” that centralizes power around DeJoy. He has also attempted to increase the rates states pay to send mail-in ballots. And most recently, during his tenure, the USPS removed post office boxes in Portland and Eugene, Oregon, and across the state of Montana, prompting Senator Jon Tester (D-Montana) to demand answers from DeJoy. The USPS is still unable to confirm to CNN if the removal of mailboxes will stop.
Aaron Gordon at Vice obtained internal USPS documents that outline plans to remove 15 percent of their mail sorting machines. Multiple sources told Vice they’ve witnessed destruction of these machines, which cost millions of dollars. The Washington Post reported that at least 671 machines have been removed, including many in districts likely to be key to swing states in the presidential election. The USPS estimates that the removal of the sorting machines will reduce the number of pieces of mail processed per hour by 394,000 in Pontiac, Michigan; 327,000 in Columbus, Ohio; and 324,000 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Overall, the removal of the sorting machines represent a total reduction of 21.4 million pieces of mail processed per hour nationwide.
The changes at USPS are a naked attempt to suppress mail-in voting — a goal which Trump openly stated last Thursday. Trump told Fox Business on August 13 that he opposed the $25 billion rescue package for the USPS because, “they need that money in order to make the Post Office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots. 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.” White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow also admitted their opposition to protecting the vote. When speaking to CNBC about stimulus negotiations, Kudlow said “so much of the Democratic asks are really liberal left wishlists, we don’t want to have voting rights … that’s not our game.” These comments are unsurprising in light of the GOP’s open attempts to suppress the vote across the country. The New York Times reported that the Trump campaign and the RNC are involved in 40 lawsuits in 17 states, all fighting policies that make it easier to vote. One of those lawsuits is in Pennsylvania, where the Trump campaign sued over plans to expand the use of mail ballot drop boxes.
Mail delays aren’t just threatening wide-scale voter suppression; they also delay shipment of medicines and paychecks. Reports show that residents of the majority Black neighborhoods in southeast Washington, D.C., have waited weeks for their mail. The New York Times reports that due to mail delays in rural Michigan, diabetes medicine that used to arrive in three days now takes two weeks to arrive.
Veterans Affairs uses USPS to fill about 80 percent of veteran prescriptions, and hundreds of veterans have contacted their senators to report missing prescription deliveries. The delays led former Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré to tell MSNBC that Trump’s attacks on the USPS “have to stop!”
The USPS and its employees have been sounding the alarm. The post office warned that in nearly all 50 states, current mail delays mean ballots may not be received by election offices in time to be counted. Jonathan Smith, president of the New York Metro Area Postal union, told NY1 the delays are due to the actions of DeJoy. “If you were to leave the Postal Service under the exact same conditions Mr. DeJoy found it, using the overtime, using the staff we do have, we would have absolutely no problem delivering on our mission to make sure every ballot is getting back to the election committee on time.”
There have been more calls for investigation from lawmakers, including Sen. Gary Peters (D-Michigan) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts). Peters opened an investigation into the mail delays following DeJoy’s failure to respond to his repeated inquiries. Warren called for the Post Office’s inspector general to investigate changes the USPS has made to slow mail delivery, and highlighted DeJoy’s potential conflicts of interest, including stock in the logistics giant Amazon, which he purchased following his appointment. The Post Office’s inspector general confirmed on Friday that they are reviewing DeJoy’s policy changes.
State lawmakers have also called for local law enforcement to investigate. Arizona’s Secretary of State Katie Hobbs asked their attorney general to investigate whether Trump and DeJoy’s actions violate an Arizona state law that prohibits anyone from knowingly delaying the delivery of a ballot. In New Jersey, Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. made a criminal referral to New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, asking him to examine whether or not Trump and DeJoy breached state election laws with their actions. Pascrell said, “What trump and his crony are doing is criminal. Period.”
Democrats have been united in opposition: On August 12, every Senate Democrat and both independent senators wrote to DeJoy urging him “not to take any action that makes it harder and more expensive for Americans to vote.” But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been criticized for letting the House go on recess without holding hearings to investigate the mail delays and attempts to suppress the vote. Several lawmakers, including Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Rep. Elise Slotkin, Rep. Jim Cooper, and even Rep. Adam Schiff, a member of the House leadership, have all called for a return from recess and an immediate start to hearings on Trump’s attacks on the post office
Speaker Pelosi will be bringing the House back from recess early in order to investigate the crisis at the USPS, hold a hearing with DeJoy on August 24, and to take up legislation to roll back the attacks on the post office made since January. But organizers aren’t waiting for lawmakers to act to increase the pressure on DeJoy and Trump. On August 15, the climate group Shutdown DC organized a protest outside DeJoy’s condo in the wealthy neighborhood in Washington, D.C. Demonstrators participated in a cacerolazo, a kind of civil disobedience with a long history, recently seen in Canada, Brazil and Colombia, where protestors use pots, pans, and other kitchen tools to make noise. Protestors also left mock absentee ballots at the entrance to DeJoy’s condo. The following day, a group protested at DeJoy’s North Carolina mansion. The progressive advocacy group MoveOn announced a day of nationwide protests to save the USPS on August 22. And Vanita Gupta, former head of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights outlined 10 things people can do to protect the vote, including signing up to be a poll worker and asking your local officials to make secure drop boxes available.
Advocates are also suing for transparency. The nonprofit legal group Protect Democracy previously filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records pertaining to the USPS’s strategy for dealing with the anticipated influx of ballots cast by mail in the 2020 presidential election. The USPS ignored this FOIA, so on August 13, the organization sued to compel the release of the documents.
From lawsuits and investigations to protests and plans to mail back ballots as early as possible, the nation is grappling with how to save both the post office and the election from deliberate sabotage. If activists can continue to pressure both lawmakers and DeJoy himself, they may be able to successfully stop the election results from being distorted by Trump’s increasingly desperate attacks.