Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans in Congress seem to hold the mistaken belief that everything is just fine and dandy at the U.S. Postal Service. Worries about slow and erratic mail delivery, the dismantling of sorting machines, deliberate sabotage and, most importantly, an inability to deliver ballots for the Nov. 3 election in a timely fashion are just some tall tale cooked up by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — or maybe some left-leaning QAnon equivalent. One can only wonder if Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s announcement Tuesday afternoon that he is “suspending” certain policies that contributed to delays goes far enough or if it will change GOP minds.
“The Democrats’ wild and baseless conspiracy theory,” is how Rep. James Comer, ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, has described it. Senator McConnell said one day before Mr. DeJoy’s surprise announcement that the USPS will “be just fine,” while declining to bring his full chamber back into session from a three-week break to deal with USPS multi-billion-dollar financial woes. For the GOP, the potential theft of an election is just some ho-hum moment.
That’s right, theft. There’s really no better word to describe what continues to look like the Trump administration’s planned effort to suppress the vote by first, sowing doubts and confusion about the reliability of the mail and more specifically of mail-in ballots and second, harming (or starving) the USPS so that ballots will not be delivered in time to be counted. And how could anyone jump to this conclusion? By actually listening to what President Donald Trump has said in recent weeks. He has openly acknowledged that by denying the Postal Service funding, he can discourage mail-in voting, which he has falsely claimed is fraudulent. The president has danced all around the topic, but he has consistently described the post office as a hot mess and mail-in voting (in which he is a participant, incidentally) as inherently corrupt, sometimes drawing a distinction between requested ballots and those that are sent without application.
Enough is enough. On Tuesday, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh joined more than a dozen fellow state attorneys general in filing suit against the U.S. Postal Service to reverse self-inflicted harm including new restrictions on overtime pay for postal workers, altered operations at regional mail distribution centers and removal of mail equipment including mail sorting machines and mailboxes. The lawsuit notes that the Postal Service recently informed states that it will end its long-standing practice of processing ballots as first-class mail no matter what type of postage is used. That’s noteworthy because states and counties commonly use bulk-rate postage for their ballots and that may prevent some from being counted.
Perhaps Mr. DeJoy’s actions will restore quality service, and the lawsuit can be dropped. Perhaps not. Postal workers have been telling all sorts of horror stories, and so are Maryland residents who are no longer receiving their mail in anything close to a timely fashion. In a news conference held Monday in Baltimore with members of Maryland’s congressional delegation, there were complaints about 10-day delays in mail order prescriptions and the loss of a half-dozen mail sorting machines in the Baltimore district. People are suspicious of President Trump’s intentions. Can anyone seriously blame them? That’s not to suggest the Postal Service was perfect before. It’s had its problems in the past, too. But what’s been going on in recent weeks is something completely different, and it sets the stage for a potential disaster if the outcome of the presidential election turns on disputed ballots. What if a sitting president refused to accept the results?
Between Mr. Trump’s misrepresentations and loose talk about fraud (still not proven, still not documented) and the conspicuous recent actions that have harmed mail delivery, Americans are justified in their fears. A recent YouGov poll found about three-quarters of Americans are worried their ballots won’t be counted. This is serious business. Not only should Mr. DeJoy stop messing with the mail, but the Senate ought to follow the lead of the House and approve stimulus funding including $25 billion for the USPS as early as this weekend.
Mail-in voting isn’t some iffy proposal, it’s a practice already in place in a majority of states. Local elections officials understand that the COVID-19 pandemic raises serious concerns about the safety of voting in person. Many states, Maryland included, will not be able to open the customary number of polling places because of health risks. That puts a greater onus on the federal government to make sure that it can hold up its end of the guarantee for fair elections inherent to representative democracy and deliver mail-in ballots reliably and on-time. That is nothing short of a sacred duty. It’s time for the White House and Congress to stop messing around and fix the mail.
The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels, writer Peter Jensen and summer intern Anjali DasSarma — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.