We live in a volatile time for the United States’ democracy. While our political system is certainly no stranger to corruption, measures in favor of voter suppression and the consolidation of power within the Oval Office seem to be growing more and more egregious. In the months preceding the 2020 presidential election, President Trump seems to be looking for every possible advantage to swing the results in his favor. Trump has never shied away from controversial political methods, and it has become common practice for him to direct his outrage at whatever person or institution he deems a possible threat to him. His current target is the United States Postal Service.
On May 28, Trump tweeted, “MAIL-IN VOTING WILL LEAD TO MASSIVE FRAUD AND ABUSE. IT WILL ALSO LEAD TO THE END OF OUR GREAT REPUBLICAN PARTY. WE CAN NEVER LET THIS TRAGEDY BEFALL OUR NATION.”
This is just one of many escalating accusations made by the president against mail-in voting. On August 5, Trump even began taking legal action against Nevada for expanding the practice. Meanwhile, he has provided zero evidence for his claims and has even used mail-in voting himself on numerous occasions.
President Trump is operating under the false assertion that mail-in voting increases the likelihood of voter fraud and thereby compromises our democracy. The president has alluded to robbed mailboxes, forged signatures and illegally printed ballots by foreign countries, but there is little to no evidence to support these claims. Trump’s attack on the USPS appears to be the latest in the Republican Party’s long-standing war on a federally run post office and an attempt to suppress voter turnout.
The majority of states support mail-in voting, so Trump has taken his own measures to undermine the postal service. The new postmaster general, Louis Dejoy, a Trump donor, has enacted various changes in postal operations in an attempt to aid the agency’s financial woes. The central design of these mandates is to cut back overtime for postal workers, but this comes at the detriment of on-time mail delivery.
In some cases, mail is facing several weeks of delays. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that “Neighborhoods across the Philadelphia region are experiencing significant delays in receiving their mail, with some residents going upwards of three weeks without packages and letters, leaving them without medication, paychecks, and bills.”
Postal union leaders have heavily opposed these measures and claim that the small savings gained by the agency are not worth the loss of customer service.
“I would tell our members that this is not something that as postal workers we should accept,” said Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union. “It’s not something that the union you belong to is going to accept.”
The Postal Service has been financially vulnerable for several years and finds its future dependent on the whim of higher powers. In its current form, the agency functions like a business run by people that do not want it to succeed. While it is not government-funded, it is still government-controlled, which means that it has the restrictions of a government agency without the usual financial security.
The agency has been independent of government funding since 1982. As a result, over the last few decades, it has struggled to compete with private companies like FedEx, UPS and Amazon.
Republicans have consistently sought to privatize the Postal Service, and in 2006, they passed a law preventing the USPS from raising its prices in accordance with increased operating expenses. Private companies, which spend tens of millions of dollars lobbying Congress, were not subject to this law and benefited greatly.
Since then, the USPS has been legally prevented from sufficiently competing with its competitors. Postal leaders project the agency could run out of money between March and October of 2021.
Democrats in Washington have demanded that the Postal Service reverse the new rules. They also have been trying to get the Senate to pass new funds to keep the agency afloat.
“Attacks on USPS not only threaten our economy and the jobs of 600,000 workers. With our states now reliant on mail voting to continue elections during the pandemic, the destabilizing of the post office is a direct attack on American democracy itself,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. “It has been 59 days since the House passed $25 billion to keep USPS alive. The Senate must pass it now. Democracy hangs in the balance.”
The recent mail delays and general instability within the USPS present dangerous implications for the upcoming presidential election. State primaries occurring amid the outbreak have been a disaster.
A lack of voting sites has resulted in some voters waiting over three hours to cast their ballot. There is also a legitimate concern regarding voter safety, as crowded voting locations present an opportunity for the virus to spread. Because of this, mail-in ballots and the USPS will be essential to creating a safe and accessible election. But Trump seems keen to use his powers over the Postal Service to his advantage.
There is a very real possibility that Trump will be re-elected in November, although he seems reliant on an inherently undemocratic political strategy. In a recent article for the New York Times, Jamelle Bouie explains how Trump uses the holes in our electoral system to his advantage: “Enough of the president’s base is concentrated in swing states like Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Because of that fact, he can lose by as many as five million votes and still win an Electoral College majority.”
Because of this, Trump doesn’t need to win over voters, he just has to suppress turnout in the right places. Control over the USPS is simply one way to manage where votes are coming from.
Despite Trump’s attacks, many states have continued loosening restrictions on mail-in ballots. To date, 35 states have adjusted their absentee/mail-in voting procedures in response to the coronavirus outbreak. But this has not been without criticism.
“After Nevada approved a plan on Monday to send mail-in ballots to all active voters in November, Trump denounced the plan as an ‘illegal late night coup’ that will ‘make it impossible for Republicans to win the state,’” Bouie wrote.
This indicates a growing fear among the GOP that Republicans will not win elections if there is higher access to voting. The fact that Trump is willing to go to bat on these grounds means that the already prevalent suppression of American voters has become far more transparent.
Data shows that Republicans benefit from absentee voting, and yet, the GOP has followed Trump’s lead by attacking the institutions that allow for greater participation on Election Day.
Several red states have restricted voting access to their residents. Oklahoma is trying to maintain its law that ensures absentee ballots must be notarized. Texas has decided to not accept medical vulnerability as a sufficient reason for absentee voting.
However, perhaps growing weary that he may actually be harming his chances, Trump has recently begun championing mail-voting in red states like Florida and Arizona. However, he claims that states run by Democrats don’t have the infrastructure to support mail-in ballots via the Postal Service.
“Nevada has ZERO infrastructure for Mail-In Voting,” Trump tweeted Wednesday. “It will be a corrupt disaster if not ended by the Courts. It will take months, or years, to figure out. Florida has built a great infrastructure, over years, with two great Republican Governors. Florida, send in your Ballots!”
Trump lost Nevada by three percentage points in 2016.
Once again, the transparency of Trump’s motives is glaring. In the last month alone we have seen him send federal agents into U.S. cities to attack civilians and make yet another attempt to taint our election process. The common thread between Trump’s actions as president has consistently centered on consolidating power. His recent attempts to suppress voters should be counted as nothing less than another full-frontal assault on our democracy. It is not his first, and it likely won’t be his last.