Recent changes in policy and leadership within the United States Postal Service (USPS) led to a backlog in mail delivery time, slowing down the delivery process. While the governmental agency has usually remained independent from political matters over its 245-year history, some worry this backup could interfere with the upcoming presidential election.

Trump mega-donor takes top USPS leadership spot

On May 6, 2020, Louis DeJoy was named the 75th postmaster general of the United States Postal Service. DeJoy is a businessman from North Carolina who is a top donor to the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee. He has donated more than $2 million to GOP political committees over the past four years.

DeJoy’s appointment was confirmed by the postal service’s Board of Governors, which is currently made up of three Republicans and one Democrat. Democrat and former Vice Chairman of the Board David Williams resigned in late April prior to DeJoy’s appointment.

The battle between Trump and USPS

Trump has long believed that the USPS charged too little for packages and that it gives unnecessary discounts to online realtors like Amazon. Trump urged the previous head of the agency to raise the fees for Amazon and similar USPS customers.

In April, Trump threatened to withhold $10 billion in coronavirus relief funding from the agency if they did not increase the fees for large e-commerce customers, despite the fact that e-commerce vendors like Amazon have helped the agency financially by increasing customer use of the USPS. A study from December 2018 completed by a Trump-approved task-force showed an e-commerce-driven increase in business for the agency between 2008 and 2018.

While it is unclear whether Williams’ resignation as vice chairman of the board is related to the threat, Williams reportedly told his constituents that he was upset with the Treasury Department’s politicalization of the agency, which has historically remained apolitical.

Why your mail has been taking so long lately

USPS does not receive federal funding from taxpayer money and relies exclusively on customer sales. The agency has experienced significant financial struggles; last year, it reported a loss of nearly $9 billion.

In mid-July, DeJoy introduced several measures meant to cut production costs to combat these financial problems as the COVID-19 pandemic persists. One of these new policies requires USPS employees to leave behind extra mail at distribution centers if the mail would delay the carriers’ routes. Prior to this policy, employees were encouraged to deliver as much mail as possible to ensure its delivery in a timely manner.

Additionally, the changes prohibit overtime pay for employees and require letter-sorting machines to be shut down earlier than usual. The agency has also considered closing post offices across the country in order to downsize.

Critics of the plan claimed that these incoming policies would greatly slow down the delivery process and create a backlog, which is already seen in several areas of the country. In addition, the measures would give an edge to private sector competitors like UPS and FedEx.

How backed-up mail could impact the election

In most situations, backlogged mail delivery would not yield significant political consequences. However, this issue comes as the 2020 presidential election is quickly approaching, and some have said it could have a negative impact on the electoral process.

The slowdowns come as many states are preparing citizens to vote by mail amid the pandemic. Sixteen states have altered and expanded their mail-in ballot policies due to concerns that voting in person would necessarily violate social distancing protocols. Only eight states still require residents to provide an excuse beyond COVID-19 fears to vote by mail.

As states ramp up their capacity to receive and process mail-in ballots, the slow postal system could slow down the mail-in voting process, potentially causing ballot delivery delays lasting until after Election Day.

Meanwhile, Trump has launched an unofficial campaign against mail-in voting, claiming that it is fraudulent despite minimal evidence that this claim is true. Trump also suggested postponing the November election until more civilians would be willing to vote in person. Postponing an election is not a presidential prerogative; only Congress has the authority to delay a federal election.

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