With the coronavirus crisis raging in the United States, mail-in voting is expected to play an outsize role in this fall’s elections. But that could give Donald Trump, trailing Joe Biden badly in the polls and increasingly brazen in his efforts to undermine the integrity of the vote, an opportunity to sow chaos in the election—even if his dreams of postponing it don’t come true.
Trump has vowed to “never let our Post Office fail,” but he has been attacking the service for years, claiming mismanagement. For a long time, it seemed the United States Postal Service was more or less the collateral damage in his petty, unceasing vendetta against Amazon chief and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos. More recently, though, his maneuvering around the postal service has dovetailed with his broadsides against mail-in voting, which he has repeatedly lied will result in fraud. “With Universal Mail-In Voting…2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history,” Trump tweeted Thursday in suggesting the vote be delayed. “It will be a great embarrassment to the USA.”
The notion of postponing the election appears to be a nonstarter, with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle dismissing the idea. But the president’s more subtle moves could be just as effective in provoking the constitutional crisis he seems bent on dragging the nation into. Earlier this summer, he installed GOP megadonor Louis DeJoy to lead the USPS. The new postmaster general, recasting the embattled agency as more of a business than a service, quickly instituted changes with the purported aim of cutting costs, but that have resulted in mail delays and could, postal service employees warn, spell trouble for the 2020 election.
“I’m a little frightened,” a postal worker told the Washington Post Thursday. “By the time political season rolls around, I shudder to think what it’s going to be like.”
The new policies—which include ending overtime pay, forcing mail carriers to leave items behind to avoid extra trips, and shutting down sorting machines early—have already led to backlogs, sources told the Post. If the problems persist into November, it could result in delays in processing the record absentee ballots that are expected to be cast in the election—something that could undermine the integrity of the election, and possibly public trust in the results. Given Trump’s anti-democratic attacks on voting, this hardly seems accidental. “Even as we sit here, there are those in power who are doing their darndest to discourage people from voting,” former President Barack Obama said in a rousing eulogy for the late civil rights hero and longtime congressman John Lewis on Thursday. “[They are] attacking our voting rights with surgical precision, even undermining the postal service in the run-up to an election that’s going to be dependent on mail-in ballots so people don’t get sick.”
A USPS spokesperson minimized the delays as “temporary service impacts,” denying to the Post any notion that the agency is being politicized. But employees, Democratic lawmakers, and other observers have railed against DeJoy’s new policies. “Your failure to provide Congress with relevant information about these recent changes or to clarify to postal employees what changes you have directed as Postmaster General undermines public trust and only increases concerns that service compromises will grow in advance of the election and peak mail volumes in November,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Democrats said in a letter. The Republican-controlled Senate has held up $3.6 billion in aid for local and state elections to help deal with anticipated influx of mail-in ballots, according to the Los Angeles Times.