Postmaster Reassures

Postmaster Reassures State Officials About Voting By Mail – NPR

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy arrives to testify during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing in August.

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

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Postmaster General Louis DeJoy arrives to testify during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing in August.

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

In a call that included a number of “tense moments,” Postmaster General Louis DeJoy sought to reassure a group of the nation’s top election officials Thursday that election mail will be his agency’s highest priority this fall, according to one state election official on the call.

Specifically, DeJoy told the officials that his agency was undertaking a public information campaign to explain to voters that the U.S. Postal Service is equipped to handle the expected increase in mail volume that comes during election season, according to New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, who leads the National Association of Secretaries of State, which organized the call.

DeJoy also talked more in depth about training for Postal Service employees about how to handle election mail, including postmarking, which in some jurisdictions needs to happen for a mail ballot to count.

“We’re at the ‘trust but verify’ point,” said Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat. “We will be taking [the Postal Service] at their word that they are going to put these much-needed processes and guidelines into place. And only through ongoing communication and accountability will we be able to be assured.”

“Better in the future”

The implementation of the aforementioned information campaign got off to a rocky start, with one state election official even calling postcards the USPS sent out last week “misinformation.”

The cards urge voters to “plan ahead” if they expect to vote by mail this fall, which is a message consistent with what officials nationwide have tried to relay.

But the cards also tell voters to “Request your mail-in ballot … at least 15 days before Election Day” — a message that has alarmed officials in states where ballots are automatically sent out to registered voters, like Colorado, Utah and Washington, and where voters might be then confused about whether they need to make a request.

“I just found out the @USPS is sending this postcard to every household and PO Box in the nation,” tweeted Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat, last Friday, with an image of the card. “For states like Colorado where we send ballots to all voters, the information is not just confusing, it’s WRONG.”

Secretaries of State asked @USPS Postmaster General DeJoy to review a draft before election information was sent to voters to ensure accuracy. But he refused. Now millions of postcards with misinformation are printed & being mailed to voters.

— Jena Griswold (@JenaGriswold) September 12, 2020

On Thursday’s call, DeJoy said the fact that election officials didn’t proofread the mailers before they were sent to millions of people was a mistake and he promised to do “better in the future,” according to Toulouse Oliver. She said there were multiple “tense” moments during the questioning period about the postcards.

But that issue, which culminated in a lawsuit and a judge temporarily blocking the mailing of the cards in Colorado on Saturday, is just the latest in a string of USPS mishaps over the past few months.

The agency has been mired in controversy virtually since DeJoy, a former logistics executive and prominent Republican Party donor, took over in June. The urgency around those concerns grew after he instituted policy changes later in the summer.

DeJoy has disputed the specific changes he made, but regardless, mail delays followed shortly thereafter, leading to bipartisan calls for him to reverse the changes. He did so, and on Thursday, a federal district judge in Washington state also ordered the changes be halted.

Speaking from the bench on Thursday, that judge, Stanley Bastian, said the changes were a “politically motivated attack” on the efficiency of the Postal Service, according to The Associated Press. DeJoy faced similar accusations during congressional hearings last month and ardently denied that his moves were about anything more than trying to right the ship at a federal agency operating on a multibillion-dollar annual shortfall.

Regardless, mail is still being delivered at a slower-than-average pace than it was at the beginning of the pandemic, according to a tracker maintained by The New York Times.

Most of those delays are by only a single day, but the general air of doubt hanging over the Postal Service may push some voters, especially Democrats, to vote in person instead of by mail this fall.

A CNBC/Change Research poll in late August found an 11 percentage-point decline in the share of Democrats nationwide who said they planned to vote by mail, compared with a poll taken two weeks before the changes at the Postal Service became well-known.

Toulouse Oliver called the conversation Thursday “extremely productive” and said she’s optimistic that DeJoy appears to be making more of an effort to communicate with the public and election officials about policies he is implementing.

“We have to take the election process out of the realm of toxic partisan rhetoric and make sure that voters have the best information possible to make their decisions about how, where and when to cast their ballot,” she said.

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General Postmaster

Postmaster General Reassures Election Officials He’ll Prioritize Mail Ballots – NPR

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy testifies this week during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing.

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

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Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy testifies this week during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing.

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy promised some of the nation’s top election officials on Thursday that mailed ballots would be the U.S. Postal Service’s top priority this autumn.

DeJoy and the Postal Service have been engulfed in a political firestorm following operational changes he ordered — and now has paused — which slowed the throughput of mail and raised some fears that they might constrain voting by mail.

On Thursday, DeJoy told the election officials that he is forming a task force to look at each mail processing plant and assess what it might need to process the quantity of election mail anticipated this year, said New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, who is the president of the National Association of Secretaries of State, or NASS.

DeJoy alluded to such a task force in a public statement earlier this month.

Louis DeJoy Vows Post Office Can Handle Mail-In Ballots, In Senate Hearing

“Over and over again, both [DeJoy] and his senior staff reiterated that the election is their highest priority,” Toulouse Oliver said in an interview with NPR after the call. “And they are actively putting into place processes and procedures to make sure every single piece of election mail, especially ballots, are going to be treated like gold.”

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican; Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat; and Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, a Republican, were also on the call with DeJoy.

Ashcroft took the place of Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, who missed the call due to Hurricane Laura.

Because of the decentralized nature of the U.S. election system, these state officials, who hold leadership positions within NASS, represent the interests of the highest-ranking election officials in the nation. As NPR reported, the officials requested the meeting more than two weeks ago but did not hear back from DeJoy’s office immediately.

A month to forget for the USPS

The postmaster general has been battling controversy as anger about nationwide mail delays turned into fears about an election in which as many as half of all ballots could be received or delivered by mail.

In congressional hearings Aug 21. and Monday, Democrats accused DeJoy of attempting to sabotage the election. Citing the delays in service around the country, some called for his resignation.

“If any other CEO had this kind of plummeting record, I can’t imagine why he would be kept on,” said House Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y.

The Most Important Mail You'll Ever Send: A Ballot

DeJoy has defended himself and the Postal Service, calling the allegations about sabotage outrageous.

He has sought to assure questioners that the Postal Service has enough capacity to accommodate even a scenario in which every single American voted by mail — which is not expected — and said he was freezing the operational changes that have slowed the mail so far until after Election Day.

The Postal Service processes and delivers more than 470 million pieces of mail per day, and so DeJoy argues that a theoretical surge of even 150 million ballots ahead of Election Day would be possible to incorporate into normal service.

On Thursday, Toulouse Oliver said DeJoy seemed surprised in the call by the intensity of the backlash and the level of scrutiny his agency is receiving in general.

She told him that comes with the territory in election administration.

“Those of us who’ve been running elections for years, we understand that as we go into an election, often there will be brand-new scrutiny on a process that we do regularly, that that really raises the level of attention to that issue,” Toulouse Oliver told NPR.

Presidential criticism not discussed

One reason for critics’ antipathy toward DeJoy is the rhetoric used by President Trump about voting by mail, which he disparages often even as he also uses it. DeJoy is a Republican fundraiser and supporter of Trump’s, and some critics alleged he was helping the president kneecap the Postal Service — which the postmaster general denies.

Trump also has said that states’ expansion of voting by mail in response to the coronavirus disaster will lead to increased fraud or even foreign nation ballot counterfeiting — ideas the FBI flatly rejected on Wednesday.

Trump’s remarks weren’t discussed specifically on DeJoy’s call with state elections leaders, but the participants did talk about the politicization of mail voting generally.

Pending Postal Service Changes Could Delay Mail And Deliveries, Advocates Warn

DeJoy also testified before the House Oversight Committee on Monday that he had tried to relay to members of the president’s campaign team that attacks on the Postal Service are “not helpful.”

If the postmaster general has stabilized the immediate political situation by stopping the operational changes he ordered earlier this year, he also has drawn newfound scrutiny given the repeated assurances he has made about the Postal Service’s intentions and capacity.

On Thursday’s call, the election officials requested a consistent line of communication with Postal Service leadership as Election Day draws nearer.

“In this time of really toxic partisan rhetoric, the Postal Service is now a part of that conversation,” Toulouse Oliver said. “We all agreed that that it’s really important for the highest levels of the Postal Service, and those of us that are chief election officials, to be able to cut through that rhetoric and have that one-on-one direct communication, even if the communication is tense or challenging.”

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