The US Postal Service has warned nearly every state in the US that it might not be able to process postal votes in time for the presidential election, in the latest sign that its financial struggles could end up affecting November’s vote.
In letters sent to 46 states and Washington DC at the end of July, Thomas Marshall, the service’s general counsel, said that post offices might not be able to deliver votes in time to be counted, even if they were posted before the state deadline. The letters were first reported by The Washington Post.
The warning has stoked growing fears that the Postal Service’s problems could impact the 2020 election. It has announced sweeping structural changes and steep budget cuts after seeing its already dwindling revenues tumble even further during the coronavirus pandemic.
Those cuts include decommissioning 10 per cent of its sorting machines, leading to concerns that current delays in delivering mail are likely to get even longer.
Democrats in Congress have pushed to include $25bn in emergency funding for the postal service in stimulus legislation, warning that coronavirus will make postal voting more important at this election than ever.
President Donald Trump has previously said he would block any such proposals to avoid universal mail-in voting — which he has said, without evidence, could lead to widespread fraud. However, on Friday, Mr Trump said he might approve the extra money if Democrats meet Republican demands for the next stimulus package.
Barack Obama on Friday accused the Trump administration of leveraging the post office’s woes to try to suppress the vote.
“Everyone depends on the USPS,” Mr Obama, the former Democratic president, tweeted. “Seniors for their Social Security, veterans for their prescriptions, small businesses trying to keep their doors open. They can’t be collateral damage for an administration more concerned with suppressing the vote than suppressing a virus.”
Many Democrats have voiced concerns that Louis DeJoy, the US postmaster-general and an ally of Mr Trump, is gutting the service deliberately to hinder postal voting.
But Mr DeJoy told its governors last week: “The notion that I would ever make decisions concerning the Postal Service at the direction of the president, or anyone else in the administration, is wholly off-base.”
Many states have greatly expanded their use of mail-in voting for the November election in order to limit the need for in-person polling while the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread.
However, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said on Thursday that Americans should be able to safely vote in person.
“If you go and wear a mask, if you observe the physical distancing and don’t have a crowded situation, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to do that,” Dr Fauci said during a National Geographic event.
“I mean, obviously if you’re a person who is compromised physically or otherwise, you don’t want to take the chance. There’s the situation of mail-in voting that has been done for years in many places.
“So there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to vote in person or otherwise.”