But first . . .
. . . I am here to bear reluctant witness that Mr. Trump didn’t hijack the Republican Party. He is the logical conclusion of what the party became over the past 50 or so years, a natural product of the seeds of race-baiting, self-deception and anger that now dominate it. Hold Donald Trump up to a mirror and that bulging, scowling orange face is today’s Republican Party. . . .
And now, a little good news.
Yes, we have loads to worry about; but on one score at least — the US Postal Service’s ability to handle a dramatic surge in “vote by mail” — things may not be as dire as they seem.
This informative analysis comes from Today’s Edition newsletter:
Most of my incoming email over the last four days has expressed concern about Trump’s plan to hobble the Post Office to suppress the vote in November 2020. The story received prominent coverage in the NYTimes, WaPo, CNN, MSNBC, The New Yorker, and smaller political outlets like the Bulwark. . . . While we should be concerned about the health of the Post Office, I do not believe that widespread alarm or panic is justified. Let me explain.
Many people seem to believe that Trump will manipulate the Post Office to selectively prevent Democrats from successfully voting by mail. I don’t believe that will occur to any meaningful degree. If the Post Office is used a political tool, it is a blunt instrument. Efforts to “slow the mail” will hurt Democrats and Republicans. That is not a winning strategy for Trump. Why? Remember that time he lost the popular vote by 3 million votes and eked out a win in the Electoral College because of 70,000 votes in three states? Any suppression effort that drives down both Republican and Democratic votes will erase his slim margin in 2016, assuming all other factors remain constant.
So, let’s start with a clear-eyed look at the challenges facing the Post Office. The Post Office is in trouble. It has been in trouble continuously since 2006. Why? In 2006, Congressional Republicans imposed a special rule on the Post Office. It requires the Post Office to account for its retirement obligations in a way that no other federal agency is required to do. As explained by the Institute for Policy Studies,
In 2006, Congress passed a law that imposed extraordinary costs on the U.S. Postal Service [that] required the USPS to create a $72 billion fund to pay for the cost of its post-retirement health care costs, 75 years into the future. This burden applies to no other federal agency or private corporation.
Nor does it apply to private corporations.
Since 2006, the Post Office has been on life support, beholden to Congress and the Executive for its continued sustainability because of a made-up accounting rule designed by Republicans to punish the Post Office. Trump is now exploiting that vulnerability to wage a war against Amazon (read: Jeff Bezos), which uses the USPS to deliver packages. Professor Heather Cox Richardson provides the historical context in her Letters from an American. I recommend Professor Richardson’s essay, which is an objective, calm assessment of the situation.
Against this historical backdrop, Trump—with an assist from the media—is creating the impression that he can and will slow down or prevent the delivery of mail-in ballots by starving the Post Office of necessary financial support. Let’s examine that fear by looking at the scale of the Post Office and the number of likely mail-in ballots. In examining the scale of the Post Office, I am using averages.
The Post Office is big. ‘You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is.’ It delivers 472 million pieces of mail each day. If the number of mail-in ballots doubled from 2016 (a very generous assumption), then 60 million ballots would be mailed over a four week period (of six day weeks) before November 3, 2020. That would mean the Post Office would handle about 2.5 million pieces of additional mail each day—a daily increase of about one-half of 1%. Given that there are 31,322 Post Offices in the U.S., the additional volume per Post Office is roughly 100 extra pieces of mail per day. Of course, much of the mail-in vote will come in the last week, which would mean that the average post office would see three hundred pieces of additional mail per day. Another way to look at the scale of the mail-in ballots is to consider that the ballots will be delivered to about 5,000 local election jurisdictions in the U.S.—or about 12,000 ballots mail-in ballots per jurisdiction over a four week period.
Of course, many offices would see tens (or hundreds) of thousands of additional pieces of mail per day, but those Post Offices would be of larger scale and proportional in size to their service population. On a relative basis, the uptick in their daily volume would feel like a one-half of one percent increase. That is hardly the description of Armageddon that some media outlets are describing. The most precise statement of the problem that I could find appeared in a Washington Post op-ed entitled, “Trump just told us how mail delays could help him corrupt the election.” The op-ed quotes a source as follows:
“The new policies have resulted in at least a two-day delay in scattered parts of the country . . . Letter carriers are manually sorting more mail, adding to the delivery time. Bins of mail ready for delivery are sitting in post offices because of scheduling and route changes.”
Bottom line: the operational problems created by the Post Office’s perpetual near-insolvency—a steady-state since 2006—is resulting in modest delays in “scattered parts of the country.” The “bins of mail waiting to be delivered” probably describes any Post Office in any part of the country any day of the week. So, let’s not hyperventilate about exaggerated fears of a crush of mail-in ballots.
Even more importantly, we can obviate or minimize the threat of a Postal Office slowdown in a variety of ways. Check your local regulations, but many states allow you to drop off your ballot at specially designated “drop boxes.” Others allow you to mail your ballot up to four weeks before the election. Still others permit you to track the progress of your mail in ballot through the mail. See Ballotrax California. (“Tracking your ballot – when it is mailed, received, and counted – has never been easier.”) Or you can take advantage of in-person “early voting” to avoid long lines on election day. We are not helpless.
In short, we can reduce the small risk of a Post Office slow-down by removing pressure from the Post Office by engaging in early, “alternative voting” strategies. It may take some effort on your part to figure out how to do that in your jurisdiction, but there are PLENTY of resources to help you. Start with Vote411.org, which is sponsored by the League of Women Voters.
And, finally, for those of you who are inclined to believe that Trump will “shut down” the Post Office before November 3rd, there is the pesky point that the Post Office is one of America’s most beloved institutions. See Forbes, “America’s Most Loved Brand? The Post Office—No Matter What President Trump Says.” If Trump shuts down the Post Office (he can’t, he won’t), he will anger 160 million postal customers who hold the Post Office in high regard. I can’t imagine anything more counterproductive he could do to his reelection chances—other than banning TikTok.
Of course, once the Post Office delivers those tens of millions of ballots, there remains the small challenge of counting them.
Quote of the Day
I do count my blessings, but then I end up counting those of others who have more and better blessings, and that pisses me off.~Bob Mankoff New Yorker cartoon caption
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