Presidential Election, COVID-19, Voting by Mail and the U.S. Postal Service

What is going on, here? While the chief concern about the forthcoming election is the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on our election, plans to mitigate those effects on voter turnout through expanded mail in voting are being thwarted by the administration on two fronts.  The first is through political attacks claiming that the U.S. Postal Service will be not able to deliver all the ballots and the that voting by mail will result in massive election fraud. The second is by sabotaging the Postal Service through reorganization, restructuring and even removal of equipment necessary to sort and deliver the mail just prior to the election. Let’s consider the facts.

First, let’s consider the issue of delivering the mail. According to U.S.P.S. statistics, the Postal Service delivers an average of 181.9 million pieces of mail every day. A reasonable estimate of the number of ballots that will be cast in the forthcoming election is approximately 142 million ballots1 2. Now if all those ballots were mailed the same day, that would be a big problem for the Postal Service. However, that is unrealistic. Absentee voting (or vote by mail which is similar to absentee voting) typically starts about 6 weeks prior to an election, during which the Postal Service is delivering mail at least 35 days. All those ballots spread out over 35 days would increase the mail delivery to 186 million pieces daily, an increase of about 2.2%. But even that is unrealistic as there will still be people voting in person at regular polling stations and in some jurisdictions drop boxes will be provided for absentee ballots that won’t rely on the Postal Service. While it’s not possible to estimate that number, it will definitely reduce the number of mailed ballots by a considerable amount. A 2% increase in the normal load is not an overwhelming burden.

Also consider that in the 5 states that vote by mail exclusively, there is yet to be a single complaint by the Postal Service or its patrons of excessive burden, or lost or stolen ballots. Furthermore, each of those states has reported that voter turnout is greater now than when voting was done exclusively in person and, in all the ballots counted, fewer than 0.0025%3 were identified as possibly fraudulent.

Now, compare the burden of an additional 142 million ballots (worst case scenario) over a 35 day period with the normal Christmas rush. On December 16, last year, the Postal Service estimated the Christmas rush deliveries to be over 2.5 billion pieces of mail in that week alone – that is about 360 million pieces of mail daily, which is almost twice the average daily mail deliveries (186 million pieces of mail) during the 6 week period for voting by mail – and the Postal Service managed to do it quite handsomely without help or interference from the Administration.

This brings us to the subject of political opposition to voting by mail. Trump has openly admitted that if more people voted, fewer Republicans would be elected to public office. He has insisted that voting by mail will result in massive voting fraud4. He has made several moves to discourage or dissuade voters from voting by mail while the pandemic dissuades voters from showing up at the polls, and he has encouraged states to suppress voting by any means possible. Furthermore, the position of Postmaster General has been filled with a Trump partisan whose principal qualifications were his successful fundraising campaigns for Trump and the Republican Party. This person has embarked on a massive reorganization and restructuring of the Postal Service, filling key positions with his own partisans, resulting in (what he admits to) “unintended consequences”5. Among his actions is the removal of up to 671 mail sorting machines from post offices around the country ostensibly to replace them with newer, more modern machines capable of sorting up to 30,000 pieces of mail per hour6. This may well be true, but the timing is highly suspect. In which cities are the sorters being removed from local post offices? How long will they be out of commission? Will they be back up and running in time for mail in voting to start (just 4 weeks from now)? By selectively choosing the time and location of sorting machine replacement, it is easy to rig mail in voting7. It is too early to know the total damage inflicted on the Postal Service by these changes, but already there have been significant slowdowns in deliveries.

Now, while the Postal Service is in need of additional funding, it is not free to increase postage rates without approval of the Postal Regulatory Commission which is governed by the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006. This law limits postal rate increases strictly to the cost of living index. Given the need to keep wages up with the cost of living and to increase the number of employees proportionate to the increase in population and volume of mail, there is little room in the budget for capital investment for new facilities8, new equipment, or the replacement of aging equipment. The Postal Service was stressed before all the reorganization and restructuring and is now stressed more than ever. Without additional funding and restored stability, the Postal Service may not be able to handle the current load much less an increase from mail in ballots. Even worse, the Christmas season mail which starts just three weeks after the election and is twice the normal daily deliveries could bring the postal service to its knees9.10

What I have endeavored to show here is that the Postal Service problems are primarily political. Left to its own devices it would have little or no problem delivering all the ballots as well as all the Christmas cards and packages this year. However, due to restrictions on rate increases imposed by law, lack of federal funding, and internal reorganization, restructuring and equipment removal, the Postal Service has suffered severe setbacks resulting in significant delivery delays. Inability to deliver the mail on-time threatens voting by mail and the forthcoming election. The combined political attacks on voting by mail with lies about massive voter and the sabotage of the Postal Service has caused many to lose confidence in voting by mail, which otherwise would go far to mitigate the damage to this year’s election caused by the pandemic.

We hear a lot about voter fraud from our President, but it’s time we start looking at election fraud in the highest levels of our government.

1 This estimate is based on the 2016 general election voter turnout statistics gathered by the Election Project and Census Bureau estimates of population growth since then. In the 2016 general election, there were approximately 139 million ballots counted from a voting eligible population of 231 million. According to Census Bureau estimates, the population has increased approximately 2%. Assuming the 2020 general election resembles the 2016 general election, we can predict that there will be approximately 2% more ballots cast in 2020 than in 2016 for a total of 142 million ballots cast.

2 Unlike Christmas cards, each voter can mail in only one ballot.

3 According to the Washington Post, an analysis of data collected by three vote-by-mail states with help from the nonprofit Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) found that officials identified just 372 possible cases of double voting or voting on behalf of deceased people out of about 14.6 million votes cast by mail in the 2016 and 2018 general elections, or 0.0025 percent of all votes cast.

4 While no such fraud has been found in the 5 states that vote by mail exclusively – and while Trump himself votes by mail (absentee vote) in Florida.

5 CNBC report: “Postal Service chief, under fire, admits ‘unintended consequences’ of his policy overhaul”

6 CNN report: Postal Service removes some mail-sorting machines, sparking concerns ahead of election.

7 This would amount to election fraud on a scale previously unimagined even by Trump.

8 As an example, our post office at 22101, built in the 1960’s, is woefully inadequate to handle the volume of mail and the number of customers it services.

9 The damage done could affect Christmas holidays far worse than it does the election.

10 It should also be noted that in some parts of the country, the Postal Service is the only delivery service available and people depend on it entirely for delivery of prescription medications among other necessities of life. Loss or impairment of delivery services in these areas could be life threatening as well.