A U.S. Postal Service mailbox that went missing in recent days, sparking concerns over the weekend from North Baltimore residents, was removed for a construction project, a U.S. Postal Service spokeswoman said Monday.
“The collection box will be returned when the work is completed,” Freda Sauter, a Postal Service spokeswoman representing the region said in an emailed response Monday. She did not specify the nature of the project or say when the box would be returned.
Residents in the city’s Abell neighborhood reported Saturday that the mailbox at 31st Street and Abell Avenue had disappeared in recent days, although accounts varied as to when. Residents raised alarms about the removal of the box, believing it was yet another sign of turmoil in the agency ahead of the November general election, which fueled worries over vote tampering.
The Postal Service had not responded to requests for comment from The Baltimore Sun until Monday.
Outlets elsewhere in the country have reported that mailboxes are being removed wholesale, and photos have surfaced online of mailboxes being loaded into flatbed trucks by the multiples in Oregon and Massachusetts.
A USPS spokesman, however, told NBC News on Friday that the agency would stop removing boxes until after the November election.
Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, Democrat who represents the Abell neighborhood, initially described the removal of the box as “pure thievery.”
“They don’t belong to the post office,” Clarke said. “They belong to the government of the United States, and there’s a process that’s always been followed if you want to do anything about removing a mailbox.”
Clarke said she was told over the weekend the box was removed temporarily to make room for a 5G installation, although she said the takeaway from the experience was that her constituents “give a darn and we’re going to be all over you until we get our mailbox back.”
In an email to The Sun she said, ”thanks Abell neighbors for demonstrating how important each mailbox is to neighborhoods in Baltimore — and the protests that any unannounced removal will generate. ... We ask USPS to adopt a ‘no notice, no removal,’ policy, even in such temporary cases, because all of Baltimore is on alert to prevent such losses.”
In the past, the postal service has publicly reviewed demographics and usage rates for the boxes before moving to remove them, Clarke said. “It was elaborate,” she added.
Mailbox removals are the latest in a series of actions that have prompted mounting outcry over the U.S. mail over the past few weeks. Widespread delays in service have become apparent, attributed to a hiring freeze and major restructuring of the system’s leadership under the direction of new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.
Last week, Vice first reported that mail-sorting machines were being removed or scheduled for removal from USPS processing facilities across the country without any official explanation.
A representative for Baltimore Local 181 of the American Postal Workers Union said Friday that six mail processing machines — four in Baltimore and two in Linthicum — were taken out of use in early August and being dismantled. Election mail typically runs through the machines, according to Sherry McKnight, president of the local union.
On Friday, several members of Maryland’s congressional delegation wrote to U.S. Postal Service leadership complaining of “major mail delivery issues” at 14 locales in Baltimore City as well as Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County.
The delays come in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic when customers are relying on deliveries of unemployment debit cards, retirement checks and medications. The situation has also sparked concerns about the upcoming election, as many states expect to make use of mail-in ballots amid uncertainty around the pandemic. Maryland will offer limited in-person voting centers in November but expects 50% of voters to participate in the election via absentee ballot.
President Donald Trump, a vocal critic of voting by mail, said this week that the Postal Service cannot handle the millions of vote-by-mail ballots that are expected to be sent this fall because of its inability to access emergency funding he is blocking.
Some have called for the ouster of DeJoy, a major Republican donor and ally of the president, who has instituted the changes at USPS. Protesters gathered Saturday morning outside DeJoy’s Washington, D.C., home calling for his resignation, according to news reports.
In late July, the postal service warned 46 states, including Maryland, that their deadlines for requesting absentee ballots might not provide “sufficient time” for ballots to be mailed to voters and returned to the elections office with the required Election Day postmark.
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The Maryland elections board has since voted to move that deadline to Oct. 20, which still is one day fewer than the 15 before Election Day that the postal service says is the minimum time span.
With the angst over the postal service as a backdrop, residents in Abell worried about the local mailbox’s removal. Joules Tiles, who lives near the mailbox’s former location, recalled it being moved during construction on 31st Street about a week ago.
“I’m concerned about our mailbox not coming back,” Tiles said. “It’s a big move that was not reported to anybody in the neighborhood or on the block.”
Genevieve Gessert said her daughter typically uses the mailbox once or twice a week, and last visited a week ago. When she went to mail something Friday, the box was gone, Gessert said.
Sophie Hinderberger and Michael Seguin, who live a block away from 31st and Abell, noted that they moved to the area two weeks ago and that the mailbox was gone as of at least two or three days ago.
Baltimore Sun Emerging News Content Editor Nick DiMarco contributed to this report.