Democrats have long suspected that President Trump’s obsession with the U.S. Postal Service might stem from a desire to prevent voting by mail. Earlier this month, he confirmed as much, saying he planned to intentionally starve the USPS of $25 billion in sorely needed funding because the Democrats “need that money in order to make the post office work, so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots. If they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting.”
The admission came after a months-long crusade against mail-in ballots, which Trump has characterized as “very dangerous for this country because of cheaters” and “fraudulent in many cases.” In reality, the data we have on mail-in voting suggest it carries a fraud rate of 0.00006 percent, and in a pandemic, it offers a safe alternative to crowded poll sites. But this campaign didn’t stop at rhetoric: In May, Trump’s Board of Governors appointed one of his more generous donors, businessman Louis DeJoy, to the position of postmaster general. Since then, reports emerged of mail-sorting machines mysteriously disappearing from post offices, and photos have begun circulating online of USPS trucks removing mailboxes in Manhattan, Portland, and Eugene, Oregon. DeJoy has reshuffled leadership within the agency, and implemented measures — like eliminating overtime and capping workers’ hours — that hobble the service’s ability to deliver the mail.
Taken altogether, the actions smelled a lot like voter suppression. Last week, several Democratic senators, led by Elizabeth Warren, wrote a letter to the USPS Board of Governors calling on them to reverse DeJoy’s changes and remove him if he doesn’t comply. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also called back the House from its August recess to vote on a bill that would block DeJoy’s cuts and provide an additional $25 billion to support voting by mail. The House passed the measure in a 257 to 150 vote on Saturday, although it is unlikely the Senate will do the same. Meanwhile, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows has dismissed the bill, saying $25 billion is not “serious” and that the legislation is “going nowhere.”
On August 18, DeJoy said he’d suspend his much-criticized “cost-cutting measures” until after November 3, “to avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail.” DeJoy testified before the Senate on Friday, clarifying that the USPS would not reinstall the collection boxes and sorting machines it had already removed, but that he nonetheless believed the service would be able to handle mail-in ballots.
Yet Trump has continued to threaten that we will have to redo the election if the bulk of voting happens by mail. While he has no power to delay the election date, to come right out and say you’re building bureaucratic barriers between voters and the polls? It sure sounds like “political sabotage,” as Philip F. Rubio, an expert on the U.S. Postal Service and professor of history at North Carolina A&T State University, put it to Politico. And this week, a former member of the USPS board of governors accused the Trump administration of trying to turn the postal service into a “political tool.”
Here’s what you can do about these attacks on the USPS, and what you should know about mail-in voting.
The USPS is a vital service
The USPS has struggled to meet escalated need throughout the pandemic. Setting aside the election implications, it is also vital for rural communities and tribal lands, which (particularly in an absence of broadband) often require affordable service to stay connected to the rest of the country and access outside resources in areas where UPS and FedEx won’t deliver. Limiting the agency’s capabilities promises to have an outsized impact on Black and Latinx people living in low-income, remote areas, and on residents with disabilities and elderly people who rely on the USPS to deliver their daily medications, and in a pandemic, PPE. The recent delays have already had devastating consequences for small farmers who rely on the postal service to deliver day-old chicks, many of which have been lost, smothered, or crushed. The USPS also happens to be the single largest employer of veterans in the country. In cutting off service, Trump is jeopardizing those jobs in the middle of a staggering national employment crisis.
There’s an upcoming day of action to #SaveThePostOffice
On August 25, a worker-led campaign called U.S. Mail Not For Sale — sponsored by the American Postal Workers Union and the National Association of Letter Carriers, led by workers, and intended to prevent the administration from selling the USPS to private companies — has coordinated a national day of action to push for at least $25 billion in immediate financial support, to stop internal adjustments that impede the service’s ability to do its job, and to “ensure public confidence in voting-by-mail by providing all necessary resources to provide the most timely delivery of election mail possible.” Check this page for updates on actions planned in your area.
Call your representatives
As of mid-August, the presidential election is less than three months away, so as Slate points out, immediate action is crucial. Call your representatives at both their Capitol Hill and regional offices; here’s how to do that, or see U.S. Mail Not for Sale’s informational resources. You can also write letters (see this petition for sample ideas on what to say). One potentially effective way to reach them may be via social media: flooding their Twitter timelines with demands for concrete details on an action plan to combat mail-in voting suppression, as an example, and/or support of USPS funding. It’s worth noting that Republicans, in particular, have been resistant to, or silent on, the Democrats’ funding plan. Per Politico, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, of Louisiana, called it a “money grab,” while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, has shrugged off concerns by saying the USPS “is going to be just fine.” If your representatives are Republicans, pressuring them to support the USPS might be particularly worth your time.
Policies around mail-in voting are made at a state level, and while all states provide for some degree of mail-in voting, some restrict the practice more than others. Familiarize yourself with the policies in your state and contact your local representatives to push for expanded voting options. When We All Vote suggests asking for multiple options to request, receive, and return mail-in ballots; early in-person voting; and online voter registration. In some states, election officials have asked for extended deadlines to count ballots that arrive by mail, provided they’re postmarked by November 3. Pennsylvania has just asked for an extension, a model you might discuss with your lawmakers. For more actionable talking points, see this useful thread:
Another simple way to contact your reps is by texting USPS to 50409, which will then send letters to your senators and representatives, asking them to save the post office.
Contact the USPS Board of Governors
According to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the USPS Board of Governors is stonewalling lawmakers’ investigation into DeJoy’s appointment, refusing to provide the requested information on the selection process on grounds that it is “confidential.” The entire board, which includes four Republicans and two Democrats, was installed by Trump, and on Friday, said DeJoy has their “full support.” While you’re writing letters and making calls, you might also consider contacting the Board of Governors (their publicly available information is here) to demand cooperation with Congress, even if that means DeJoy’s removal.
Buy some stamps, and/or some merch
If you have some cash to spare, maybe spend it on stamps, profits from which help float the USPS. Back in April, enough people pulled together to buy stamps as a means of emergency funding that they crashed the USPS site. It’s a small action, but small actions can also add up.
Or, if you’d like to go bigger, the USPS also has merch. If you’ve ever wondered where those small dog costumes come from … right here!
Familiarize yourself with the deadlines in your state
Do your research early: One of the concerns about inundating an already-ailing postal service with a huge crush of ballots is that their delivery could get delayed, and ultimately, that lost or waylaid ballots may not be counted. With that in mind, familiarize yourself with your state’s deadlines (all of which are available here) with plenty of lead time to help spread out the influx and avoid a bottleneck on election day.
Push for more ballot drop-off boxes
The USPS isn’t the only vehicle for mailing in your ballot: In states like Oregon, which are already accustomed to robust mail-in voting numbers, voters can drop their ballots in designated collection boxes managed by election officials, taking some heat off the postal service. Typically, drop boxes have a surveillance system trained on them to avoid malfeasance, and they have worked well in the states and cities that have used them. Now, a number of states, including Connecticut, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, are expanding drop-off locations for absentee and mail-in ballots. However, they’ve been met with resistance from President Trump, who on Monday questioned whether drop boxes could result in a rigged election. In Pennsylvania, the Trump campaign has sued to block the use of ballot drop-off boxes in November, claiming, without evidence, that drop boxes “exponentially enhanced” the threat of voter fraud. When you call your reps, consider pressing to support increased drop box numbers and insisting boxes go up in your area.
If you feel comfortable doing so, volunteer as a poll worker
The coronavirus pandemic has added additional strain to poll worker numbers and created backlogs and long lines in several state primaries. If you are not in a high-risk category for COVID-19 and you do not come into regular contact with anyone who is, consider volunteering as an election worker. More information on what that entails and who’s eligible here, or through Work the Polls, an initiative encouraging young people to sign up as poll workers.
Get involved with an organization working against voter suppression
Again, what Trump is proposing looks uncannily like voter suppression. There are a number of organizations that were already working to thwart obstructive tactics on the ground, even before the war on USPS began. Here are some national options you could support (the American Bar Association also has a list), but research what activists have planned in your area — if you feel you can do so safely, you might consider helping to transport voters to the polls or working on a registration drive.
• Fair Fight, Stacey Abrams’s organization aiming to “promote fair elections in Georgia and around the country, encourage voter participation in elections, and educate voters about elections and their voting rights.”
• When We All Vote, “a non-profit, nonpartisan organization that is on a mission to increase participation in every election and close the race and age voting gap.”
• Common Cause, an organization that works to expand voting rights, combat gerrymandering, and in a pandemic, make sure everyone still has access to the ballot box.
• Election Protection, a nonpartisan coalition that works year-round to provide voters nationwide “with comprehensive information and assistance at all stages of voting — from registration, to absentee and early voting, to casting a vote at the polls, to overcoming obstacles to their participation.”
• Voto Latino, “a grassroots political organization focused on educating and empowering a new generation of Latinx voters, as well as creating a more robust and inclusive democracy.”
• League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan organization that “encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy.”
• Indivisible, a grassroots movement of thousands of local groups that take regular actions to thwart all manner of Trumpian civil-rights violations and to elect progressive candidates.
Sign a petition
Surprise, surprise, there are a number of petitions you can sign:
• A Change.org petition that also includes information on other actions you can take.
• Another Change.org petition to “Save the USPS.”
• A Common Cause petition to “Save the U.S. Postal Service.”
• A MoveOn petition to “Fully Fund the U.S. Postal Service.”
• Another MoveOn petition to “Tell Congress to Save Our Postal Service.”
• A White House petition to “Save the United States Postal Service.”
This article has been updated.