Top Democrat Nancy Pelosi has accused Donald Trump of “openly working to destroy the post office”, and said the US president is actively trying to “sabotage” the agency’s ability to deliver Americans’ mail-in ballots in time to be counted for the 2020 election.
The House speaker’s remarks came hours after the US Postal Service’s (USPS) own inspector general confirmed Friday that it has launched an investigation into policy changes a Trump appointee has made at the post office over recent months, including cutting overtime, which has reportedly led to slower mail delivery.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, an unprecedented number of Americans are expected to cast their votes by mail this fall, making the USPS a central player in ensuring a fair election. One expert estimated that 50% of all of the votes cast this fall could be sent through the mail.
Former president Barack Obama warned against attempts to “undermine the election” on Friday, and said on Twitter he was concerned that Americans who received their medication or social security checks through the postal service might become “collateral damage for an administration more concerned with suppressing the vote than suppressing a virus”.
Trump himself admitted last week that he opposed Democrats’ demand for $25bn in government aid to the financially-struggling USPS because he believed it would support the delivery of mail-in ballots.
If ballots do not arrive at election offices by a given deadline, they will not be counted in the election. Postal delays could lead to the disenfranchisement of Americans who filled out and mailed in their ballots, an issue that voting rights advocates say is a serious risk. In general, minorities, young people and first-time voters are all more likely to have their votes rejected.
“If you can’t right the ship, if you can’t correct these [problems] fast enough, the consequence is not just, OK, people don’t get their mail, it’s that you disenfranchise people,” Ronald Stroman, a former top postal service official, told the Guardian last week.
Trump said last week he believed without the additional $25bn funding, the post office would not be able to handle “millions and millions of ballots” this fall.
“If we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money,” Trump told Fox News host Maria Bartiromo. “That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting; they just can’t have it.”
In a statement Saturday, Pelosi, the Democratic house majority leader, vowed “ to fight to protect the post office”, calling it “central to our democracy”.
“In the time of pandemic, the postal system is election central. All patriots, Democrats, Independents or Republicans, should reject the president’s assault on the postal system in this election season,” Pelosi said.
The new US postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, a Trump donor, announced what he billed as new cost-saving measures earlier this month. In July, the Washington Post reported a range of previous major operational changes under DeJoy, including prohibitions on overtime, citing internal memos. DeJoy has defended the changes as designed to “improve operational efficiency” as the USPS struggles financially, the New York Times reported.
On Saturday crowds of protesters gathered outside DeJoy’s home in Washington DC in a show of support for the agency. Demonstrators were seen holding signs declaring support for the postal service and piling leaflets designed to look like mail-in ballots against the front door of the lobby of his apartment building.
Senator Elizabeth Warren and a group of other Democrats requested in an 7 August letter that the USPS inspector general perform an audit of DeJoy’s operational changes, scrutinizing their effect on Americans who rely on the postal service for medication and other services, and arguing that the changes “appear to pose a potential threat to mail-in ballots and the 2020 general election”.
Warren said in a statement Friday that the post office’s inspector general “is investigating all aspects of our request to audit the Postmaster General’s operational changes”, and that, “I’ll keep using every in the toolbox to stop Trump & DeJoy from sabotaging the USPS”.
A spokesperson for the inspector general confirmed to multiple media outlets that the office would be following up on the lawmakers’ letter, which also included concerns about personal conflicts of interest for DeJoy in running the USPS.
Sam Levine and the Associated Press contributed reporting