Democrats Should Consider Pivot to In-Person Voting

Mailboxes taken out of commission in NYC. Source: NBC New York

Trump and his crony Postmaster trying to concoct chaos and confusion over vote by mail.

It’s not about the money.

According to the most recent (Aug. 7) SEC filing by the US Postal Service, the post office has $12.9 billion in its piggy bank, more than enough to take care of the election and the much larger Christmas rush.

That sum doesn’t even include the $10 billion line of credit that Congress appropriated in the CARES Act last spring. When the credit line was agreed-upon in late July, the money just sat there, waiting to be tapped. It’s still untouched. Meanwhile, the terms of the loan gave Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin a seat at the head of postal table, where he and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy can plot to remake the post office in the four or so months they have left.

By the way, as head of an independent agency, Postmaster DeJoy does not work directly for Trump. Hence, another role for Mnuchin.

Can’t Have It Both Ways

Last week, the US Postal Service sent letters to 46 states and the District of Columbia warning them that their mail-in ballots may not be counted in time because of the states’ ballot request deadlines were “incongruous” with post office delivery standards. DeJoy wrote that the post office faced a financial crisis “exacerbated” by the cornonavirus pandemic.

This is very curious considering that DeJoy won’t even draw on the line of credit. Could this be a “manufactured” crisis in the making?

Postmaster Louis DeJoy testifies before the House of Representative Oversight Committee, August 24, 2020. Source: Voice of America

In his House testimony on Aug. 24, a defiant DeJoy refused to restore mail sorting machines that his regime took offline, nor to replace the blue mailboxes removed from city streets. DeJoy’s reason: Not needed! He denied eliminating overtime, saying the document outlining overtime restrictions was written by a “mid-level manager.”

(Mark Diamondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, explains how overtime is crucial. “Well, the post office runs on 15 to 20 percent overtime, that’s an indication that they’re short-staffed. Overtime is a way of life in the post office because there’re ebbs and flows in the mail. You can’t just hire for the flow because then you may have too many people for the ebb…But if you take away overtime in the name of cost-cutting and the work is there, then the work doesn’t get done.”)

DeJoy told the House panel that election mail was his “number one priority,” declaring that he will authorize an expanded use of overtime, extra truck trips and other measures in the weeks before the election to ensure the on-time delivery of ballots. He said the postal service was fully capable of processing mail-in ballots in this year’s election.

In his attack on the post office, Trump and his cronies are utilizing several concepts in the image, such as undermining institutions, eroding truth and rewriting history, the latter in regard to “voter fraud” and mail-in ballots. Copyright Bigstock

Okay, so which is it? The post office is broke but won’t draw on its line of credit? An apocalyptic letter to the states or a cheerful prediction of fulfillment from the postmaster? There was no report of any “truth serum” being administered to Postmaster DeJoy before his House testimony.

By creating an artificial crisis at the US Postal Service, Trump is drawing on a now familiar playbook that he hopes keeps him in power: Keeping voters confused about real versus bogus issues that are undermining the post office…keeping voters guessing whether their ballot will get counted…doubling down on the false narratives of voter fraud and “rigged elections”…sowing enough chaos and confusion with a pillar of our democracy–the right to vote–that voters will throw up their hands and decline to participate.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

The Big Pivot

Two writers at The American Prospect, Roy F. Greenwald and Robert Kuttner, are leading the charge among some Democrats and voting rights advocates to pivot (their word) to in-person voting or other variations that don’t count on the post office. They’ve gone so far as to say mail-in ballots are a “trap” for Democrats and could cost them the 2020 presidential election.

The numbers do seem daunting. Joe Biden’s polling numbers in battleground states are plump and juicy, but as the race tightens, they are…reality check!…fragile. Greenwald estimates that if the Trump administration slows down the mail by just one week, 20% of mail-in ballots will likely not arrive in time to be counted. Biden’s lead will go “poof.”

Dropbox for mail-in ballot. Check the rules for your state. Photo by Matt Slocum/AP

This pivot will require some “loud messaging” from Democratic stakeholders far and wide. It’s not like we’re asking people to do something they haven’t done before. It’s like going to the grocery store during the height of the pandemic: put on a mask, expect to wait in a “social distancing” line, exercise your franchise and bring plenty of hand sanitizer. If you’ve been mailed a ballot, bring it along.

Another advantage: It increases the chance that the election will be called on election night. That lessens the expected post-election night mischief from Trump, who will be quite ready to cry wolf, file lawsuits and delay the final results until after the Electoral College meets on Dec. 14.

A Varied Approach

With the election just more than two months away, a complete 180-degree pivot to in-person voting is probably out of reach. In some states, voting by mail is the primary method of voting. Mail-in voting has been widely promoted as the healthy alternative in a pandemic world. We should respect that.

The American Prospect‘s Robert Kuttner has suggested a four-pronged approach, with in-person voting figuring prominently as a last resort.

  • Continue to be an advocate for the post office as a treasured public institution and call for ending Trump’s sabotage and giving the US Postal Service the resources it needs.
  • Participate in a public education campaign to encourage voters not to procrastinate, be aware of the deadline dates and deliver mail-in ballots in a drop box (if offered by your state) rather than a mailbox. Leave nothing to chance.
  • Take advantage of early voting, if you live in one of the 37 states that allow it. Educate yourself and others if and when early voting occurs.
  • If you receive your ballot late and have a suspicion it will not reach its destination by election day, by all means put on a mask and show up to vote. Be vigilant. Learn the location of your polling place today if you’re not sure.

Mark Diamondstein again of the American Postal Workers Union: “It’s not called the United States Postal Business. It’s called the United States Postal Service.”

Andrew Goutman

Andrew Goutman is the editor of Enter, Stage Left.

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