Postmaster says USPS ‘fully capable’ of handling ballots but offers no plan
Just weeks before many Americans will start voting by mail, Postmaster Gen. Louis DeJoy told a Senate hearing that the U.S. Postal Service can handle the ballot onslaught.
Facing public backlash over postal delays just weeks before many Americans plan to vote by mail, Postmaster Gen. Louis DeJoy sought to reassure Congress on Friday that the U.S. Postal Service can handle the onslaught of ballots.
“I want to assure this committee and the American public that the Postal Service is fully capable and committed to delivering the nation’s election mail securely and on time. This sacred duty is my No. 1 priority between now and election day,” DeJoy testified at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
While acknowledging significant slowdowns in mail delivery recently, he said the USPS is committed to delivering 95% of election mail within one to three days, as it has in previous elections, and he is “highly confident” mailed ballots will be received in time to be counted.
But DeJoy told the senators he could not yet provide a detailed plan about how he would ensure on-time delivery. He also said that he does not plan to restore mail-sorting machines and mail collection boxes that have been removed — actions that have provoked complaints from postal service employees to the media and demands from Democrats in Congress to restore the equipment. They are “not needed,” DeJoy said.
His testimony came just days after DeJoy announced plans to suspend the controversial changes, including reductions in service, overtime pay restrictions and the equipment removals, until after the November election.
California and at least 20 other states and voting rights advocates have sued to reverse the changes.
The already strapped postal service is struggling financially because of rising costs and lower mail volume during the pandemic, as well as a congressional requirement that it fund its retiree healthcare benefits in advance — something other federal agencies are not required to do. DeJoy urged Congress to change federal law so it does not have to prepay retirement benefits.
Under questioning, DeJoy was unable to cite any specific analysis that the postal service had done to take into account how his policy changes would affect seniors, veterans, deployed service members, and others who rely on on-time delivery.
DeJoy, a donor to President Trump and other Republicans, took the post only in June. He said the sweeping changes were necessary to keep the agency afloat. DeJoy blamed postal-processing plants’ production for not keeping up initially with mail trucks’ new schedules that he imposed for on-time deliveries. He also said the postal service, like many businesses, has had some labor disruptions because of COVID-19.
The cutbacks have delayed the delivery of prescriptions, rent payments and unemployment checks since mid-July, prompting a national outcry over service disruptions and potential voter disenfranchisement.
The Democratic-controlled House plans to vote Saturday on a bill that would halt the new policies until the public-health emergency ends and provide the agency an additional $25 billion. DeJoy is scheduled to appear Monday before the House Oversight Committee, where he likely will get a harsher reception than he did Friday in the Republican-led Senate committee.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), the chairman of the Senate panel, dismissed what he called the “false political narrative” that DeJoy is trying to “sabotage” the election. He later called it a Democratic “hit job.”
DeJoy said it is an “outrageous claim” that the changes are politically motivated or that he’s trying to negatively affect the election. He said he has voted by mail and supports the practice, which Trump has repeatedly and falsely claimed invites massive vote fraud. DeJoy said the USPS will send a letter to all households in September explaining the process for voting by mail.
“I think the American public should be able to vote by mail and the Postal Service will support it,” he said.
Accounts from employees at California postal facilities provide a glimpse of the chaos amid both the pandemic and widespread cuts imposed by the USPS.
Before the preelection suspension, the postal service was in the process of removing 671 mail-sorting machines, or about 10% of its total, from facilities across the United States — including 76 in California. DeJoy said the decision to take the actions was made before he assumed control of the agency.
DeJoy said he did not know about the removal of mailboxes and sorting machines until the public outcry began. “I was made aware when everyone else was made aware,” he said, calling it “not a critical issue.”
DeJoy also disputed that overtime has been limited. “We never eliminated overtime,” he said.
Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), the highest-ranking Democrat on the committee, lambasted DeJoy for the changes in recent weeks. He and other Democrats said complaints from constituents have flooded into their offices and they complained that the postal service has been unresponsive to their inquiries.
“Mr. DeJoy, your decisions have cost Americans their health, their time, their livelihoods and their peace of mind,” Peters said. “You owe them an apology for the harm you have caused, and you owe all of us some very clear answers.”
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