An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Make Election Mail Free
Mark Jamison’s commentary on USPO matters have been featured at Angry Bear Blog a number of times over the years. A retired postmaster, Mark Jamison serves as an advisor, resident guru, and a regular contributor to Save the Post Office. Mark’s previous posts concerning the USPO can be found here at “Save The Post Office” or by doing the search function at Angry Bear. Mark can also be contacted on USPO matters email@example.com
A common thread that runs throughout the history of the United States is the expansion of the franchise.
Early in our history the right to vote was limited to white males, often with strict property qualifications. By the time of Andrew Jackson, the franchise had extended to white males generally. While the primary reason for the Civil War was the elimination of slavery, the logical conclusion of that conflict was the Fifteenth Amendment, which prohibited denial of the franchise based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” The Nineteenth Amendment extended the franchise to women, and the Snyder Act of 1924 extended the vote to Native Americans by granting them full citizenship rights. The Twenty-sixth Amendment extended the voting age to eighteen-year-olds, acknowledging that if one was old enough to fight and die for their country they were old enough to exercise the franchise.
The fundamental premise of our Constitution is that sovereignty lies within the entity known as We the People. Voting, the exercise of our basic right to choose our leaders, should be our most cherished right because it enshrines voice and participation granting the dignity of self-government.
And yet for all its acknowledged value and importance there have still been reactionary and revanchist powers that sought to limit and confine the franchise. The powerful and elite rarely willingly share their wealth and power. Each step in extending the franchise was met with resistance.
Ninety-five years after passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, the 1965 Voting Rights Act finally enshrined mechanisms to fulfill the vision of participation that is the cornerstone of American Democracy. The VRA was renewed by Congress several times, most recently in 2006 when it passed in the House by a vote of 390 – 33 and in the Senate unanimously. And yet elements, small recalcitrant elements of our society, still begrudge this most fundamental and basic of rights. In an infamous decision that stands with Dred Scott as among the most unjust acts of the Supreme Court the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision eviscerated key parts of the VRA. Predictably the same bad actors who have fought voting rights took the opportunity to find new and effective ways to suppress voting, especially among minority communities.
Now we have a president who, fearing he will lose an honest and fair election, takes every opportunity to call into question the integrity of our elections and voting practices. While we struggle as a nation with a deadly pandemic, this president has done everything in his power to call into question an obvious solution that will make voting safer, easier, and more accessible. That solution is voting by mail.
Several states already vote exclusively by mail and every state has some provision for mail voting even if limited to excuse-required absentee ballots. In this time of pandemic, voting by mail makes sense and we should make every effort to assist states in providing vote by mail.
The president has charged, without evidence, proof, or data, that voting by mail is fraught with fraud, but like much of what he says his allegations are self-interested flailing lacking substance or integrity. Worse yet, his attack on voting by mail have been fully aided and abetted by the Republican party (as discussed in this Politico article).
The plain and simple fact is that our election system shows very little evidence of in person voting fraud and virtually no evidence of significant amounts of fraud connected to voting by mail. To refute the baseless charges of a proven liar is to dignify the rantings of a desperate man.
The problem is that the president’s views on voting by mail may be having an effect on the operations of the Postal Service. There have been numerous reports that mail is being delayed as a result of changes in delivery procedures implemented by the new Postmaster General in June, and some have charged that this is happening to mess with voting by mail. The Postmaster General has naturally denied this.
Then there’s the recent report from The Capitol Forum, a Washington lobbying and reporting shop, describing a proposal by USPS leadership to raise the postage on ballots sent by states to voters from 20 cents to 55 cents a piece. A USPS spokesperson has flatly denied this, telling Kevin Kosar in an email,
“The baseless assertion that we intend to raise prices in advance of the upcoming Presidential election in order to restrict voting by mail is wholly without merit, and frivolous.”
But there’s probably more to this story.
While ballots being returned by voters to election centers travel as First Class mail, when ballots are sent out to voters they sometimes go at the cheaper — and slower — Marketing Mail rate (about $.20). The Capitol Forum memo could be based on a misunderstanding. It’s possible that postal leadership is telling election officials they should send out ballots at the First Class rate in order for them to be delivered in time for voters to return them by the state’s deadline.
That explanation jibes with a recent article in the Guardian. Tammy Patrick, a voting-by-mail expert at the Democracy Fund, says that in the past the Postal Service “bent over backwards” to deliver ballots in a timely way close to election deadlines, but now it’s giving out mixed messages about whether or not they would go to such lengths this fall. USPS officials have indicated that they will more strictly enforce the delivery times guaranteed by the different classes of mail (2-5 days for First Class, 3-10 days for Marketing Mail). Rather than giving priority to election mail, says Patrick, the Postal Service is now saying election officials “will get speed for the delivery for which they pay.”
There’s more evidence that the Postal Service may be changing its policy on election mail in this OIG report about the 2018 midterms. The report says that management at several mail processing facilities told the OIG that they treated all election mail, regardless of the rate on the envelope, as First Class. That may no longer be the case.
During my postal career it was widely assumed most of senior management leaned Republican. But whatever their party affiliation or policy preferences, it was always clear throughout the Postal Service that any mail related to elections including campaign mail was sacrosanct, treated with care and urgency. Many Districts had local offices fill out logs of election mailings in order to ensure they received same day handling regardless of class. Actual election mail, i.e. ballots, were treated with care. There was no excuse to delay this mail, even if there was postage due.
The proper handling of election mail represented the most fundamental function of a national postal network with universal service fulfilling an essential national purpose. More generally, the Postal Service was seen as the property of the American people regardless of political party or persuasion. Whatever else, we were the people’s post office.
How times have changed. From the moment of his election and for the duration of his term, this president has made clear that he is president only for those who agree with him; he welcomes sycophants and excludes everyone else. Moreover, he has shown that he sees the federal government as an extension of him and him alone.
Newly appointed Postmaster Mr. DeJoy, whatever he may say to the contrary, has made it clear that he works for one man, not the American people. His latest attempts to throw a monkey wrench into the operations of the Postal Service during a pandemic and during what may be the most consequential election this nation has seen are shoddy and pathetic partisanship. He and the Board of Governors (BOG) should be seen for what they are, quislings and lackeys doing the bidding of a president who has disgraced his office and Constitutional order.
At the moment the steps that can be taken to rein in Mr. DeJoy are limited. Schumer and Pelosi met with the Postmaster General a few days ago and clearly tried to exert some pressure, but how much leverage do they have? Perhaps Congress will insert language in the upcoming stimulus bill holding DeJoy accountable and directing the maintenance of delivery standards with special attention to election mail. The Postal Regulatory Commission could also do more to exercise its responsibilities for oversight but will probably remain on the sidelines.
So what of the future?
Instead of looking at election mail as another way for the Postal Service to bring in revenue, how about if we recognize the obvious – the USPS is an essential infrastructure designed to serve the American people? Anything that makes elections safer, simpler, and more accessible supports the fundamental right to vote.
So let’s make all election mail free. Some states already pre-pay postage for voters to return their ballots, but most do not, and states must still cover the costs of sending out the ballot applications and ballots. State and local governments, boards of election, and voters should not have to worry about the costs for voting by mail. Supporting free, fair, and accessible elections is a basic duty of government, so let’s fulfill that duty.
Some will ask, what about the cost? Who’s going to pay for election mail? Isn’t the Postal Service already losing billions of dollars? How can we afford to let election mail go for free?
The simple answer to that is that the Postal Service is, as I never tire of repeating, an essential national infrastructure. The value of the Postal Service is not in the revenue it brings in but in all the good it does for the nation. As discussed in this Lawfare article, the Postal Service is essential to national security — responding to natural disasters, deterring mail crimes, and defending against biological attacks. The Postal Service also generates economic opportunity for the whole country by providing a universally accessible and far reaching network that has myriad uses.
Another value of the Postal Service is in the jobs it provides, at its height 800,000 workers, with good benefits. Those jobs have supported economic development in every community in the United States. They have given disabled veterans a chance to be economically independent, and they have allowed people of color and the economically disadvantaged to find a step up into the middle class.
If we can afford billions in so-called Homeland Security and hundreds of billions in defense spending, then we can find a few billion to support a strong universal postal network that returns value and security benefits that far exceed its costs.
We should create a dedicated Election Trust Fund that encourages vote by mail and to support state and local governments in providing free, fair, and accessible elections. Since we don’t want to rely on yearly or periodic appropriations from Congress to maintain the fund (that’s actually what got the old Post Office department in trouble), Congress should seed the fund with enough money to cover the elections through two presidential cycles. Mechanisms to refresh the fund can be devised through support of the states, perhaps related to population with incentives for higher percentages of registered voters and higher voter turnout. Other dedicated funding sources can be identified.
The specifics are less important than the basic idea. Let’s find the political will and the common sense to support the most essential right in our democracy, the right to vote. At the same time, let us support an institution as old as the Republic and just as important and useful today as it has ever been.
Our country will not achieve greatness through angry exclusionary rhetoric that treats our national assets like personal play toys. It will do so only by aspiring towards the promise of our founding documents, by striving towards principles of equality, justice, inclusion, honesty, and the dignity of every American. Supporting a national network that binds the nation together and facilitates the right and duty to vote would be a step towards greatness.
1. In Colorado the post office has stated in the past that they will deliver ballots to the county clerk without postage.
2. In Colorado many [most?] people vote by dropping their ballot into the big steel box. There are easily accessible.
Every state should just copy Colorado.
Michigan does similar.
January 15, 2018
Transportation & Warehousing and Post Office Employment, 2000-2018
January 15, 2018
Transportation & Warehousing and Post Office Employment, 2007-2018
January 15, 2018
Transportation & Warehousing and Post Office Employment, 2017-2018
DB & Run
Some states: Texas, North Carolina, Alabama and Arizona (Arizona was a Confederate Territory), plus states like North Dakota, Ohio, and Wisconsin, don’t want some people to be able to vote.
If you read the link, that issue is admitted to. It is expected it will take to 2022 to get Florida to have Medicaid. Oklahoma just barely passed. Fair Progress is making headway were others have not be able to do so. Tahnk you Ken, for your comment.
Through the presidencies of George Bush and Barack Obama, the Post Office was prevented from taking advantage of the increasing demand for local delivery of small packages as online shopping dramatically increased. This was especially unfortunate as the Post Office has long been an important valued employer of Blacks and women.
June 23, 2020
Saving the Post Office, Defending Black Workers
By HAYLEY BROWN and DEAN BAKER
The Postal Service has historically been an important source of middle-class jobs for Black workers, especially where racial discrimination was strongest in the private sector. This pattern continues to the present.
We previously posted * our findings from an analysis of the Current Population Survey (CPS) that showed Black workers are substantially overrepresented among state and local government employees. The share of Black workers in state and local government jobs is 20 percent higher than in the private sector. If budget shortfalls force state and local governments to cut their workforces, Black workers will be disproportionately victimized by the layoffs. It turns out that the situation is similar with employees of the Postal Service. Postal workers are more than twice as likely to be Black as workers in the private sector. Our analysis of the CPS shows that in the three year period from 2017 to 2019, 26.8 percent of Postal Service workers were Black. This compares to 11.5 percent of the private sector workforce during this time period. As in state and local government, the pay gap between Black and white workers is narrower among those who are employed by the Post Office than among workers in the private sector.
Like state and local governments, the Postal Service is facing an enormous budget shortfall as a result of the pandemic. It has seen a huge drop in revenue, as mailings were drastically curtailed, especially during shutdown periods. In addition, it has incurred extra expenses associated with keeping its frontline workers safe from COVID-19, while continuing to perform the essential service of delivering the mail.
Though the Postal Service received a rescue loan as part of the CARES Act earlier this year, it was not enough to completely stave off the threat of insolvency. The Postal Service has requested an additional $75 billion to make up its remaining funding gap. Without intervention, it is in danger of running out of cash after September. This is especially worrisome as states move to expand vote-by-mail to mitigate the effects of the public health crisis on the 2020 election, which is scheduled to take place in November.
In addition to jeopardizing a service the country depends upon for everything from medicines to democracy, forcing major cutbacks to the Postal Service will be a serious hit to the Black community, possibly depriving tens of thousands of Black workers of relatively good-paying jobs. Those whose positions are not eliminated outright may find their job quality diminished as recent proposals aim to reduce employee benefits. There have also been pushes to expand the agency’s use of noncareer workers, who are not eligible for the same pay and benefits as permanent employees.
The Trump administration has thus far devoted less attention to a federal law that requires the Postal Service to prefund retiree health benefits through at least 2056. Other parts of government and private corporations are not subject to this requirement, and its imposition explains most of the Postal Service’s accounting losses in recent years. Even with this mandate, depending on the conditions imposed by Congress, the pensions and health care benefits of thousands of Black postal retirees may nevertheless be in jeopardy.
At a time when the country is reexamining its history of racism and the ways in which racism continues to shape the economy and society, it would be tragic if Congress thoughtlessly struck a hammer blow to the Black middle-class community by forcing large-scale cuts on the Postal Service. Moving forward to reduce the impact of racism will be a long and difficult process. Going backward will only make it harder.
The website for the National Vote at Home Institute has lots of great information, including state by state rundowns.
Five states (Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, Utah and Colorado) have been voting at home before this year, California, Vermont and Nevada will join them this November.
Arizona actually has quite a good vote at home (vote by mail) system. They allow counties to allow voters to sign up for a Permanent Early Voter System (PEVL) and then voters receive all ballots by mail. And in Arizona, the postage is paid by the government on return ballots.
About 80% of Arizona voters vote by mail.
I agree that Colorado has a good system, except for not paying postage. In Colorado, over 60% of voters return their ballots to the Ballot Boxes located in many locations.