With a record number of New Mexicans expected to vote by mail again in November, now is no time to be playing politics with the U.S. Postal Service. In fact, recent criticism of the USPS shows it is past time for Congress and the White House to put it on solid footing.
President Donald Trump last week conceded during an interview that a political battle over funding for the Postal Service could make it harder to process an expected surge of mail-in ballots. This is the same president who has repeatedly expressed concerns about voter fraud with mail-in balloting. And the same president who can call the postmaster general a major campaign donor. Louis DeJoy instituted myriad cost-cutting measures after he was appointed in May, including removal of mail-sorting machines, suspension of overtime pay, slashed post office hours and an end to late delivery trips needed to ensure mail arrives on time.
On Tuesday, facing a Postal Service Inspector investigation, congressional scrutiny and lawsuits from more than 20 states including New Mexico, DeJoy announced “to avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail, I am suspending these initiatives until after the election is concluded.”
That’s important – the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has made some version of mail-in balloting our country’s principle method of voter participation. In New Mexico’s June primary, a record 264,793 cast absentee ballots by mail – about 63.4% of all votes cast – and given the lack of a coronavirus vaccine as well as impending flu season, that’s expected to continue.
In addition to DeJoy’s now-on-hold cuts, Trump said during the interview on Fox Business Network that without the two funding provisions Democrats are seeking in a stalled relief package, the Postal Service won’t have the resources to handle a flood of ballots from voters. “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,” he said.
To be clear, New Mexico does not have “universal mail-in voting,” whatever that is. In the primary, as in years past, we have relied on absentee ballots when we can’t get to the polls in person. It’s a reliable system that has worked for decades.
And millions of Americans can’t live without the mail system. Military service members – especially those overseas – rely on the Postal Service and its Military Post Offices. Who else will deliver a care package from the parents of U.S. service members in New Mexico to the mountaintops of Afghanistan? The Postal Service delivers about 333,000 medications to the homes of veterans every day. Then there are all the paychecks, benefits checks, bills and other correspondence – and often mail is the only option in a state like New Mexico, which has one of the worst internet connectivity ratings in the nation.
Yes, the USPS has serious money issues – $160 billion of them – but they have virtually nothing to do with how the mail operates and everything to do with the fact Congress requires it to pre-fund its retiree pensions and health care at a ridiculous 100%, 75 years in advance; mandates it invest only in government bonds; forbids it to lower prices to increase business; and won’t allow it to add new products that compete with the private sector.
So yes, hamstringing the Postal Service in advance of November’s presidential election in search of a self-fulfilling prophecy of election fraud is unconscionable. But blame for all the Postal Service’s woes cannot be laid on the White House steps. Pre-, during and post-pandemic the USPS remains our nation’s best bet of extending democracy, medications and much more to every American. Congress and whoever is in the White House need to finally do what’s best for the Postal Service and the people, not what’s politically expedient.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.