U.S. Mail Delivery: Neither Snow Nor Rain — Just Money And Politics

Who would have thought that the speed of U.S. mail delivery would be a hot political topic? Well, it is 2020, so anything is possible. Cue the current uproar about the timeliness of delivery of vote by mail ballots for the upcoming presidential election. It’s not snow or rain that would be keeping the USPS from its appointed rounds. No, sir. Blame money and politics for the mail mess.

Why are mail in ballots in the spotlight? It’s a numbers game. The sheer volume of ballots expected to be cast in this manner for the upcoming presidential election is significant. Back in 2016, 1 in 4 ballots cast were submitted by mail; but a surge in mail in ballots is expected for the 2020 presidential election. In fact, a record number of ballots is likely to be sent by mail this fall.

Some states have already seen a demand for mail voting increase five times or more during the primaries. At this rate, it is possible that half or more of voters will cast ballots by mail for the November 3rd election. Using this method, they’ll figuratively be putting the stamp of approval on the candidate of their choice and a literal stamp on the envelope to mail in their ballot.

Mail in ballots are a popular choice due to the coronavirus crisis. Voters are wary of being exposed to the virus at the polls, and CDC has recommended mail ballots as a way to avoid the risk of exposure. Accordingly, an estimated 80 million ballots could be cast by mail in the rapidly approaching election. That’s a mass of mail!

Unfortunately, USPS is delivering some bad news as well as the regular mail. It’s warning states it cannot guarantee all ballots cast by mail for the November 3rd election will arrive in time to be counted even if they are mailed by the required deadline. Some folks are thus sounding the alarm that voters whose ballots are not timely received will effectively be disenfranchised. “Disenfranchised” is a fancy-schmancy word meaning deprived of their right to vote.

So that we’re in good form for the upcoming election, let’s take a quick vote. Raise your hand if you have ever thought USPS delivered mail in a speedy or even timely fashion. (NOTE: My hand is NOT raised.) Although I couldn’t see your hands if they were raised, I’m betting there were none to see anyway. Hey, there’s a reason that traditional mail is called snail mail. Sure, it is way slower than e-mail is, but traditional mail was never fast to begin with. Ridiculously slow times for mail to be delivered have been occurring for some time. Of course, now that it is election time, slow mail delivery must be a political plot, right?

So the theory goes, the new Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy,  a major Trump supporter, is deliberately making changes to the USPS’s operations to benefit the president. DeJoy, a 63 year old former supply chain CEO, took the reins of the USPS in June. His assigned mission from the Commander-in-Chief? Make the USPS more profitable. This task is a daunting one given that the post office has lost money for years. In 2016, the postal service recorded its fifth straight annual operating loss–a whopping  $5.6 billion (that’s billion with a “B”) loss. USPS is in such dire financial straits that it is hoping to receive $10 billion from Congress  simply to remain in operation.

What has DeJoy done since taking over? He has reduced overtime (which increases payroll costs), restricted extra mail transportation trips (which result in more employee time and additional cost for operating postal vehicles), and cut other agency expenses. These measures, to no one’s surprise, has resulted in slower (and it was slow to begin with!) delivery times. AHA! A political plot for sure!

DeJoy is the first postmaster general in almost 20 years who is not a career postal employee. From the current fiscal state of the USPS, it doesn’t seem that a career postal employee makes a good top dog. DeJoy is a successful CEO with a proven business track record. Isn’t that who one would want to shake up an operation which is drowning in red ink? But no! Certainly DeJoy was only chosen because he was (GASP!) a Republican and a Trump supporter. The political plot thickens!

But wait. Is Trump improperly monkeying around with a government operation? Let’s consider what the USPS really is. The postal service, which is explicitly authorized by the U.S. Constitution (in Art. I, Section 8, clause 7 for you fellow political science majors), is an independent government agency of the EXECUTIVE branch. For you non-political science majors, the executive branch is the President. So President Trump is taking steps to shake up an agency in his branch of the government to make it more fiscally sound. How horrible!!!

The USPS is big business, but it is a business that’s in big trouble. How big a business it is? The postal service employs over half a million people and is the third largest civilian employer in the country after the federal government and Walmart. This big business’ big trouble is plummeting use and soaring losses.

With the increasing use of e-mail, the volume of first class mail has significantly declined. In addition to e-mail use, USPS is having to compete against private package delivery services such as Amazon, Federal Express, and UPS. Back in 2009, a proposal was made, but not implemented, to eliminate Saturday mail delivery as a cost-cutting measure.Plans were even  floated to close a number of smaller post offices to stem the flow of red ink from USPS. Correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t recall a hue and cry that these were political moves.

President Trump’s political opponents are currently railing against the cost-cutting measures implemented by USPS. They believe some voters will not have their votes counted if these measures take effect. To head off such a result, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is calling the House back from recess for an in person (not via mail) vote possibly on Saturday. Specifically, legislators will be considering proposed legislation, “Delivering For America,” that would prohibit any changes in mail delivery service prior to the November election. Hmm. That sounds like a political move.

I personally am not in the least bit concerned that my vote won’t get counted. That’s because I’m not going to rely on USPS to timely get a mail ballot in for me. I’m going to go vote in person wearing a mask, socially distancing, and utilizing hand sanitizer after handling the ballot. I’ll put the marked ballot into the machine for tallying, so I have only myself to blame if the delivery is slow.

Just WONDER-ing:

Do you plan to vote in the presidential election? If so, will you be voting in person or via mail? Have you ever voted by mail in the past? Did you have any concerns about doing so? If you were the Postmaster General, what steps would you take to get the USPS back in the black? It is unreasonable to expect an agency to operate in the black?