A U.S. Postal Worker monitors packages on a conveyor belt at a processing and distribution center on April 29, 2020 in Oakland, California. U.S. Postal Service workers are continuing to process and deliver the mail amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The Postal Service faces an uncertain future with revenues down an estimated 50 percent this year due to the coronavirus crisis. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
A prolonged mail delivery slowdown worries Valerie Madison.
The Detroit resident is diabetic who relies on insulin that arrives at her North Rosedale Park home via U.S mail. Madison is also a regular voter who has no interest in visiting a polling location during the COVID-19 crisis. She said she would prefer to mail her absentee ballot well ahead of the Nov. 3 general election. But she is not confident that it will be received and counted.
“I’m concerned about it,” said Madison who also suffers from respiratory challenges. “I’m between a rock and a hard place.”
Madison and millions of other Americans are watching a battle unfold in Washington over the United States Postal Service (USPS) since President Trump ally Louis DeJoy became postmaster general in May. DeJoy has made a series of sweeping policy changes to the USPS, like cutting work hours and removing mail sorters, which has resulted in widespread mail problems in Michigan and across the country.
Residents report that mail is arriving weeks late or not at all, which poses a particular concern as the November election approaches, with more people using absentee voting this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In Michigan, every resident has the right to vote absentee under a constitutional amendment passed two years ago, and there’s been record-breaking turnout in the May and August elections.
Detroit-area postal union officials confirmed Tuesday that several mail-sorting machines have been removed in Michigan, lowering first-class mail-processing capacity by more than 300,000 letters per hour.
Roscoe Woods, president of American Postal Workers Union Local 480-481, said that several bar code sorters machines have been removed in Pontiac and that absence ”seriously hampers our ability to do our work.”
Keith Combs, president of the American Postal Workers Union’s Detroit district, said four machines have been removed from the Fort Street location in Detroit and said it appears to be an effort “to derail people from being able to vote.”
Trump’s war on mail-in voting
Last week, Trump said in an interview on Fox News that he opposes more funding to fix problems at USPS because it will make absentee voting easier. Trump has repeatedly made false claims that mail-in voting is “fraudulent.”
“They want $3.5 billion for something that’ll turn out to be fraudulent, that’s election money, basically,” Trump said. “They want $3.5 billion for the mail-in votes. Universal mail-in ballots. They want $25 billion, billion, for the Post Office. Now they need that money in order to make the Post Office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots.”
Several Republicans, like U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-Dryden), have denied there are widespread problems at USPS. Mitchell posted on Facebook his own “fact check,” which claimed that USPS can handle an influx of absentee ballots and doesn’t need more funding before the election.
Nolan Finley, the conservative Detroit News editorial page editor, has dismissed voters concerned about their mail-in ballots amid USPS cuts as “conspiracy theorists.”
But Democrats on Capitol Hill have been calling for investigations. Several lawsuits have been filed, with Michigan joining a suit led by Washington state. A U.S. Senate panel will hold a hearing on Friday, prompting Trump on Wednesday to slam Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in a tweet.
Amid the outcry, DeJoy said Tuesday that he will halt some changes until after the general elections this fall. DeJoy said he will not change overtime rules, retail hours at local post offices, or the location of mail processing equipment and blue collection boxes, nor will he close any existing mail processing facilities. He also said the agency will use “standby” resources as of Oct. 1 to meet a possible surge in mail due to the elections.
However, WOOD-TV reported Wednesday that mail sorting machines at a USPS processing facility in Grand Rapids were being disassembled, even after DeJoy’s announcement.
“Every Michigan voter who chooses to exercise their constitutional right to vote absentee by mailing their ballot through the U.S. Postal Service should have their vote counted,” said Nancy Wang, executive director of Voters Not Politicians, which spearheaded a 2018 successful ballot initiative creating an independent redistricting commission.
“It is unacceptable that these political tactics are being used to suppress the vote, even after the postmaster general committed to halting changes to the postal service before the November election.”
Andrienne Montgomery, 68, of Detroit relies on medication via U.S. mail and has been an absentee voter for years. Even after DeJoy’s decision, she said she doesn’t trust the Trump administration.
“He is concerned about being reelected,” Montgomery said about the president.
Democrats want more answers
Several Michigan Democrats who have been working to resolve postal service issues vowed to continue to do so.
U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.), ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, helped secure the oversight hearing Friday where DeJoy is expected to appear.
“I will continue pressing for answers on Mr. DeJoy’s recent directives and their impacts on all Americans, who rely on the Postal Service for prescriptions, running their small businesses, voting and other crucial purposes,” Peters said.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) called on DeJoy to answer several questions.
“There’s many questions the Postmaster General must answer. What will plans after the election look like? Will there be a system in place to ensure people still receive mail in a timely manner? Will mail sorting machines that were shut down reopen? We need answers,” she tweeted.
U.S. Rep. Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Twp.) on Tuesday evening called DeJoy’s rollback a “small victory” but also called on the postmaster general, Trump campaign mega donor, to resign.
“This is surely not the first or last time the United States Postal Service will be threatened by politicians bought and paid for by private interests,” Levin said. “Postmaster General DeJoy only promised vaguely to ‘suspend’ these changes – not abandon them. He has already proven himself unfit for the job by using his time as postmaster general to sabotage the agency and invest tens of thousands of dollars in stock options at USPS competitors. To protect the future of the USPS that so many Americans rely on, he must resign or be removed.”
U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield), a former postal worker, on Wednesday repeated her call for DeJoy to resign, saying, “This fight is far from over.”
“The Postal Service needs real leadership at the helm, and Mr. DeJoy is not the right person for the job,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence was joined by U.S. Reps. Dan Kildee (D-Flint), Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) and Haley Stevens (D-Rochester Hills) during a Tuesday press conference about delayed postal service to their constituents.
Tlaib called on the USPS to reverse production and staffing changes that have been implemented thus far. She added that they should not be implemented after the general election.
U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) said DeJoy’s decision is “not good enough.” U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly), who joined Stabenow during a Wednesday news conference in Lansing, said that 80% of the calls to her office are about post office delays.
Meanwhile, many Michiganders are still skeptical that they’ll see positive changes with mail service.
Kenneth Reed, a long-time Detroit activist, has lost four people in his life to COVID-19 and cares for his 90-year-old aunt, whose medication is mailed to her. He called Trump’s dismissive comments related to mail-in voting “reprehensible” and is very concerned about general election votes being counted.
“The postal service is vital to our community,” he said.
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