Post office puts off changes until after election

Tuesday, August 25, 2020
Photo by Seth Boyes

USPS rep says absentee mailing will be manageable

Iowa's county auditors were able to begin accepting requests for general election absentee ballot requests on July 6, and U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said in a July 27 statement that the U.S. Postal Service needed to "redouble our efforts to focus on our plans to improve operational efficiency and to further control overtime expenditures."

DeJoy indicated to members of the U.S. House on Monday he does not intend to reinstall mail sorting machines, which have been removed from postal facilities. He later confirmed sorting machines and collection boxes are typically removed or changed out each year. DeJoy who was appointed to his position by the Board of Governors in June said other anticipated operational changes, such as reduction in available overtime for postal workers, will be put off until after the election.

"There are some longstanding operational initiatives efforts that predate my arrival at the Postal Service that have been raised as areas of concern as the nation prepares to hold an election in the midst of a devastating pandemic," DeJoy said. "To avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail, I am suspending these initiatives until after the election is concluded."

At least two members of the House committee U.S. Rep. James Comer of Kentucky and U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio estimated 12,000 postal collection boxes were removed under the Obama administration. U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley said DeJoy has been chastised for implementing reform in the postal service, but he said the newly appointed Post Master General only added two new reforms one of which was requiring postal trucks to run on time. Grassley said he's heard from constituents with the postal service who feel DeJoy should step down, but not from other groups of Iowans.

"The Democrats have been accusing him, because he contributed to Trump's campaign, that somehow he was in cahoots with Trump," Grassley said. "He said the only time he's ever talked about Trump, it was about taking this job, and Trump can't appoint him. The Board of Governors appoint him."

Approximately, 1,526 absentee ballot requests had been received at the Dickinson County Auditor's Office as of Tuesday morning, according to Dickinson County Elections Clerk Jordan Moyer. She said a fair number of the forms received have been duplicate requests from individual voters request form are available through the auditor's office, but political campaigns and other political action groups sometimes offer request forms to voters. The Iowa Secretary of State's Office recorded a total of 5,288 absentee ballots submitted in Dickinson County during the 2016 general election 119 more than were recorded in person on election day that year. Statewide, a little more than 40 percent of Iowa's 2016 results were cast through absentee voting.

DeJoy said retail hours at Post Office locations will remain the same, mail processing equipment and collection boxes will remain where they are, no mail processing facilities will be closed and overtime will continue to be approved as needed. The U.S. Postal Service spent billions of dollars on overtime costs during the 2019 fiscal year, according to DeJoy's July 27 statement. Absentee ballots do not have to be sent through the mail. The ballots may be returned in person to the county auditor's office. A secure drop box is available outside the Dickinson County Courthouse's west entrance, or the ballots can be delivered directly to the auditor's office.

Nicole Hill, a media representative with the USPS, confirmed overtime will still be available for employees, but she said the organization is not providing comment at this time regarding postal machinery, collection boxes and other possible changes to operations. She was also unable to confirm whether any mail sorting machines or collection boxes had been removed from postal locations in the region Hill is the media representative for most of Iowa, as well as Illinois, Minnesota and Western Wisconsin. Local post masters referred inquiries for comment to Hill.

Hill said the USPS as an organization is capable of handling the volume of absentee ballots expected to be sent through the mail for the November general election. She cited the Minnesota primary election, which took place Aug. 11, saying approximately 800,000 ballots were requested by Minnesota voters.

"That number seems big and scary if you think of it as 800,000, but if you think about that (in terms of) of when they request it, when it's sent through the mail and then also the multiple, different locations that service Minnesota, it's really not that unmanageable," Hill said. "In the city of Minneapolis alone, we deliver 2.8 million letters a day, so it's very manageable for us to handle those ballots."

The USPS said Friday in a social media post that even if all 330 million American voters sent their ballots by mail over the course of this year's election, it would only be 75 percent of what the postal service delivers in a single day.

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