by: Subaita Rahman
Lately, amongst the throes of social distancing, voter fraud, and mail-in ballots, some certain familiar shorts-clad people have taken center stage: the United States Postal Service.
The USPS has been the center of heated discussion these past few months, with the looming questions of voting during a pandemic and having a socially-distanced election, especially with concerns of funding and voter fraud. The President, in particular, verbalized some of these concerns by threatening to cut funding from the USPS earlier this year, made even more complicated by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who just so happens to be a major Trump donor with strong ties to the Republican party, and his recent efforts to cut costs before the end of USPS’ fiscal year on September 30. Additionally, the USPS just announced major changes in its leadership, which could mean delays of paychecks, medicine deliveries, and of course, mail-in ballots for voters, according to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer in a letter sent to DeJoy.
We’ve been hearing a lot about how USPS is on the brink of going under, but it’s important to recognize that there’s more to the story. DeJoy claims to put forward these changes in order to reduce costs and help the USPS “capture new revenue”, even though the USPS doesn’t operate for profit. Additionally, Trump claims that Congress will need to give $25 billion in order to build up the USPS again, which is proven to be untrue. One thing we need to ask is, does the USPS even need more money?
Earlier this year it was said that the USPS would run out of money by late September, but with the new surge of pandemic-related shipping, that date has been rolled back to March 2021. Still, in this era of digital ordering and big competitors, it’s no secret that the USPS has to put up a fight to keep up. Though Amazon and FedEx are both competition and colleagues of the USPS and each other, both are growing at a pace where soon they might not need the USPS’s infrastructure anymore. This makes their current frenemy status a little awkward, considering they’re the USPS’s biggest source of revenue.
However, what critics are worried about is that throwing a fat blank check at the USPS won’t help. At the moment, the USPS’s main method for survival has been to slow their roll and close down certain boxes and stations to not lose any more money. Instead, the Congressional measures and the motions from DeJoy require them to continue delivering on days when they won’t have business, keep open underutilized offices, and refrain from raising prices to support themselves, all while cutting down on overtime and benefits. In short, by not allowing them to cut down, they’re forcing the USPS to steadily bleed out by performing as if nothing’s happening, which can cause some serious damage.
These changes will, of course, influence voting. If the USPS is forced to be more inefficient, their capacity to deal with the surge of ballots is weakened and mail-in voting could be delayed, which could absolutely affect the outcome of the upcoming election. We’re on the verge of having an election unlike any other in American history, with each state taking some stance on normalizing a postal vote.
One big concern shared by both parties is the opportunity for voter fraud. As we already know, mail-in ballots slow down the election process by a lot of time, which is generally a source of unease, especially in such a charged election. Additionally, there are a handful of ways to have your ballot not count, including signs of it being wet, or forgetting a signature on the envelope; election officials expressed that so far nearly 20% of all mail-in votes had to be discarded for similar reasons, and according to an analysis by NPR, nearly 550,000 votes were discarded in this year’s presidential primaries. In September, the U.S. Department of Justice shared an instance where nine military votes were discarded, seven of which were cast for Trump, and while there were no signs of the discards being intentional, this example has been referenced plenty in the argument against the validity and integrity of mail-in voting.
Yet, many studies show that voter fraud occurrences are remarkably low, perhaps because of this rigorous standard. According to a study by the Brennan Center for Justice conducted in 2017, the rate of voting fraud overall in the US is between 0.00004% and 0.0009%. Similar studies show only four instances of official voter fraud in 2016, and very low numbers overall in the history of mail-in voting.
However, as mentioned earlier, we’re in unprecedented times, and postal voting of this volume has never happened before. There have been instances of voter tampering already, involving misleading ballot boxes, isolated cases of fraud like the Republican candidate tampered with voting papers in the 2018 North Carolina primary, and cases from New York and New Jersey earlier this year eventually leading to two Democratic councilors being charged for alleged fraud after a post box was found stuffed with hundreds of ballots. So, while instances are low, they’re certainly not impossible, which can be cause for plenty of concern.
Still, there are safeguards and provisions in place to prevent people from stealing or impersonating other votes, including required signatures on envelopes and checking that the ballots came from your registered address, which are implemented for all postal votes, absentee or not. With all this in mind, the least we can do is make sure that our vote can count.
These times are confusing, but there are a few measures to take to ensure a smooth voting experience. If you are eligible to vote, please be sure to double-check the last day for you to register (October 19 in California) and mail in your ballot. Also, here are some ways to make sure your vote gets counted. Go out there and vote – not even Dursley can stop you!