Is Donald Trump trying to win the presidential election by gutting the US Postal Service to make postal voting impossible?
That’s the conclusion being drawn after it became clear the service is being deliberately run down by postmaster general Louis DeJoy—a Trump appointee and financial backer.
His measures include removing giant sorting machines from mail centres, reducing post office hours and even physically removing post boxes.
The result is that vital mail isn’t reaching people in desperate need, and that’s especially true for the millions of people who order their medication online.
Don White is an 82 year old with heart disease who needs his drugs to survive—but is struggling to get them delivered.
“There have been a few times in which it’s taken a week, week and a half, two weeks, but this is the first time I actually ran out,” he explained last week.
Don says he’d been tracking the package and saw that it was at a mail processing facility for ten days.
Such appalling suffering is amplifying questions around “mail-in” postal voting, which has become a key political trigger in the post crisis.
Despite it being by far the safest and most democratic way to conduct a presidential election in the midst of a pandemic, Trump repeatedly attacks postal voting.
He hopes that his supporters will go out and vote no matter the danger from coronavirus. Just last week he said that an election conducted by mail would “make our country the laughing stock of the world”.
And, when asked about the resources needed to make postal voting work, Trump replied, “Now, if we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money.
“That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting, they just can’t have it.”
But the growing public outcry against the attacks on the post is heavily rooted in the US’s rural communities, where deliveries are most essential. This has started to ring alarm bells in the Trump campaign.
The mail is by a long way the US’s most-supported public service, and attacking it is deeply unpopular.
A big part of the Republican party’s powerbase lies in rural areas with conservative traditions.
If those same areas are now being hit by the collapse of deliveries that could well have an impact on the Trump vote.
A petition to save the US Postal Service had gained over 1.5 million signatures last week. And union members planned a day of action on Tuesday.
Reacting to the crisis this week postmaster DeJoy announced that some of his plans will be rowed back—at least until after the election.
No one is yet sure whether that means the agency will be forced to undo some of the damage already done.
But the American Postal Workers Union said many of the mail sorting machines stripped out of big offices have now been dismantled and sold off as scrap.
How private companies stole money from the mail
The United States Postal Service (USPS) has long been in trouble.
It has debts of around £122 billion.
In 2006 they signed up to an Act that meant USPS had to “pre fund” all its retirees’ medical policies.
That meant setting aside millions of dollars for bills that haven’t yet arrived. It is a practice that none of USPS’s private sector rivals have to follow.
This was a sop to the growing array of logistics companies that accompanied the growth of internet shopping.
They were handed a key advantage over their state-owned rival, and made great use of it.
Unburdened with debt, Amazon and United Parcel Service (UPS) have recorded big profits during the pandemic.
In fact, they’ve made so much “spare money” they are in the process of expanding their networks.
Amazon is buying an extra 2,300 trucks, while UPS has announced a £76 million expansion of its Atlanta facility.
All of this has added to public sector USPS’s crisis.
It was unable to make the medical pre funding payments, and so the giant figure ended up as a “debt” on its balance sheet.
And that debt has since been used as a political stick to beat both public services and workers alike.
In 2000, some 800,000 people worked for USPS. Today that’s down to 650,000. A fifth of those work part-time and are more easily sacked.
Since 2007 some 44,000 USPS workers have been sacked after being injured doing their job.
Unions that should have resisted these attacks have repeatedly fallen for the argument that jobs can only be saved by toeing the company line.
Billionaire backer of Republicans
Postmaster general Louis DeJoy is in charge of the US’s
state-owned postal service—but hates that it still exists.
DeJoy holds shares in the XPO Logistics company.
Which means he has a vested interest in seeing USPS fail.
Inaccurate claims are the real fraud
Trump claims that “mail-in” voting is more prone to fraud than voting in person. He has even suggested delaying the election to prevent “inaccuracies”—which he doesn’t have the power to do.
But there is no evidence of widespread election fraud according to numerous studies.
Why postal votes matter
Many US polling stations in other races have already closed.
Those that remained open had hours-long queues. This not only poses a risk to voters, but could mean it is not possible to register the votes of everyone who turns out.
USPS wrote to states last month to say it might not be able to deliver postal votes in time to be counted.