Opinion: Trump’s trolling has undermined voting by mail, no matter what the post office does

President Donald Trump has claimed that voting by mail will be plagued by fraud.
(Nicholas Kamm / AFP/Getty Images)

It’s good news that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, facing criticism and lawsuits by state attorneys general, has promised to suspend “some longstanding operational initiatives” that critics feared would delay the delivery of mail-in ballots. When DeJoy testifies before a Senate committee on Friday, he should be asked if he is also reversing any changes that might already have gone into effect, such as the removal of mail-sorting machines from some facilities. Congress also should codify his promise in legislation.

What DeJoy can’t wind back, however, are the comments President Trump made last week suggesting that he didn’t want the post office to have the funds necessary to expedite voting by mail during the coronavirus pandemic — a practice he has claimed will be rife with fraud.

Referring to congressional Democrats, 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.”


Democrats have raised alarm about Trump’s comments as well as the management and service changes at the post office. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) connected the dots when she called the House back to work in order to shore up postal service.

Pelosi claimed that Trump was engaged in a “campaign to sabotage the election by manipulating the Postal Service to disenfranchise voters” and accused DeJoy of pressing to “degrade postal service, delay the mail, and — according to the Postal Service itself — threaten to deny the ability of eligible Americans to cast their votes through the mail in the upcoming elections in a timely fashion.”

In recent days, some pundits have offered revisionist takes on the Democrats’ doomsaying about the post office and the election. In Politico, Jack Shafer noted that letters sent by the postal service warning that some ballots might not be received in time to be counted were in the works before DeJoy took over.

Shafer also noted, in connection with reports of disappearing mailboxes, that the Postal Service has been cutting the number of boxes since 2000 because of a decline in first-class mail. “You can blame Trump for many, many things but not for the fact that Americans are using the mail less and less, or that the USPS is reacting accordingly,” he added.

“It’s Trump’s particular genius for pulling together unrelated things that has liberals and election wonks in a tizzy,” Shafer wrote. Besides, Trump has a “propensity for making big threats and then retreating” — which he may well do on funding the Postal Service.

Still, some of the damage from Trump’s comments trashing mail-in voting may be impossible to undo.

In his statement Tuesday, DeJoy said: “The Postal Service is ready today to handle whatever volume of election mail it receives this fall.” That may be true, but Trump’s trolling has created doubt for some Americans about whether their mail ballots would be counted (or whether they might be canceled out by other, fraudulently cast votes). Some of those voters — particularly elderly ones — will be afraid to vote in person because of the novel coronavirus. And whether they vote or not, they may be suspicious of the outcome.

Voting during a health emergency was always going to be complicated and confusing, but Trump’s self-serving comments about fraud have made things worse, however heroically the post office conducts itself from now until the final votes are counted.