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How to Save the USPS and Stop Voter Suppression

Buying USPS merch isn’t going to fix this, but fighting at the state level can.

A photo of a blue mail dropoff box with a yellow lock on it preventing people from dropping in mail.
A locked USPS dropoff box (via Wikimedia Commons)

You’ve seen the posts on social media: ominous trucks taking away mail boxes from Hollywood in the middle of the night, reports of the federal government gutting an already strained public service. The implication of these posts is that millions of ballots won’t make the cutoff, further exacerbating voter suppression.

Everyone is freaking out about the United States Postal Service, but that focus is misguided in some ways. There are impactful, direct actions you can take at the state level if you really want to put an effort into eliminating voter suppression and help save the USPS.

The delivery delays aren’t (just) a money issue.

The post office, even without a bailout, is financially in a better place than they have been in some time. They’ve gone through their fair share of budget slashes, like when the USPS attempted to eliminate delivery on Saturdays back in 2013. As with everything, a lot of this outrage exists simply because more people are paying attention.

The reason the USPS is so backed up is thanks to Louis DeJoy, a Trump donor and North Carolina businessman who became Postmaster General in May 2020. In July, DeJoy banned overtime and extra trips, AKA the real reason behind mail delays.

Some mail misses the scheduled trucks. Before DeJoy stepped in, the USPS sent additional trucks with the late, sorted mail. Since the USPS halted overtime and additional trips simultaneously, things got messy quickly, and the public’s hyper-focused awareness led the USPS to bring back secondary late mail deliveries where needed.

Sorters and blue boxes are removed and replaced regularly.

Even before DeJoy became General Postmaster, the USPS regularly removed and replaced blue boxes and sorters. This is partially done because the USPS doesn’t have proper funding, so they take parts from working machines that aren’t needed, volume-wise, and use them to fix machines in other places.

One of the main reasons we are seeing blue boxes and trucks towed off en masse is because the Commission did not have anyone to approve these actions before DeJoy’s appointment. As soon as DeJoy took office, he was able to approve this backlog and clear it all at once.

The tactics are partially evil, but mostly incompetent.

If Republicans were planning to disrupt the election by removing mailboxes and slashing overtime, they would have done this during the election. As it stands, the post office will seemingly have time to work this out. The USPS has been looking to cut down on extra trips for quite some time since it’s a money-suck, but of course, no one has been willing to piss off the entire nation by figuring it out. DeJoy thinks he can fix it simply because he’s worked as an executive and board member of a transport logistics company.

If this were a concerted effort to quietly stifle votes, it’s backfiring. DeJoy’s strategy is essentially operating as a mass information campaign. People are going to vote earlier than they would have before this whole debacle. Voting by mail also leads to more informed votes and the ballots tend to lean left, and Republicans have always been against it for these reasons.

This isn’t to say things aren’t evil.

Of course they are. Voter suppression happens every year with mail-in votes (and in myriad other ways). The post office has always warned against delays voiding ballots, but the USPS’s educational efforts have gone under-reported.

The difference this time is that now even MORE votes will be suppressed via tactics that have been in place for years. Some states allow people to request vote-by-mail (VBM) ballots on a Friday when they are due back the following Tuesday. This means their ballot has to be processed, sent out, received by the voter, filled out, postmarked, and received by the registrar from Friday to Tuesday. And let’s not forget this includes Sunday, when mail isn’t collected or delivered. That’s not the post office’s fault, that’s bad rules.

Voting rights are state issues.

When it comes to voting rights, feds can’t do shit. If we want people to organize, it should be around their state legislatures, who should be focused on point of delivery practices. California has great ones. Red states’ VBM delivery practices are a mess.

The biggest fight will be in swing states, because that’s where they will try to sue and challenge after the election. They will either attempt to invalidate a bunch of VBM or commit fraud (for Biden) to force recounts. VBM is pretty secure so the votes ultimately won’t count — but just the presence of counterfeit ballots or people attempting to obtain multiple ballots will be enough to trigger these suits.

But we should be fighting for the USPS, right?

USPS Trucks lined up in parking spaces as four employees sort mail and place packages into orange sorting bins.
USPS Employees sort mail. (via Travis Wise | Flickr | CC BY 2.0)

All of this isn’t to say the growing concern about increased voter suppression isn’t warranted. Unfortunately, there are even more sinister, under-the-radar shifts happening in the USPS that should be receiving more attention.

They just raised the prices of packages.

This was basically a big middle finger from Trump to Amazon, but of course this will impact loads of other people. It’s also worth noting that DeJoy has stock in Amazon, which sends out roughly 40 percent of its packages through the USPS.

The USPS is by far the most diverse government body, and their execs are now almost all white men.

The few Black people in leadership positions at USPS during this administration either got pushed out by the restructuring or resigned when the new postmaster came in. All of the current members of the Board of Governors are white men.

So what should people that wanna organize around this do?

Start campaigns that do the following:

1) Change from only counting votes received by election day to counting votes that are hit by a USPS machine on election day.

This happens even before postmarks. The USPS delays aren’t about incoming mail, it’s about outgoing. There won’t be much to worry about if this was implemented.

2) Have VBM be first class mail.

The post office already does special sweeps for ballots of their own accord, but this would guarantee ballots wouldn’t be treated as bulk. Organizers have repeatedly recommended this strategy for every presidential election.

3) Extend how many days ballots have to be received by the registrar.

The good news for Angelenos is that California’s mail-in vote period has been extended to 17 days (not that you should procrastinate sending in your ballot.) If you are not in California, you can find out your state’s laws (and who to contact) here.

4) Educational campaigns about signing the envelope.

If you don’t sign your name on your VBM ballot envelope, your ballot is tossed. This is something that happens entirely too often, and is wildly preventable.

5) Require outreach for anyone that has a mismatched signature so they are given the chance to fix it.

Even if you sign your ballot, your vote can still get tossed if your signature does not match the signature on their voter registration roles. This rule disproportionately impacts voters in vulnerable communities.

Contact your state election officials about an outreach program to give people a chance to fix their ballot if it is rejected without merit.

6) Require a website where those that VBM can check the status of their ballot.

This just seems like common sense. The USPS already offers tracking on priority and first class mail. This makes campaigning to make ballots in your state first class mail even more crucial.

So yes, you can (and should) be worried about the state of the USPS, but buying 40 packs of Forever Stamps does more to ease your conscience than stopping voter suppression by mail.