On August 18, newly-installed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a prominent Republican donor, announced that he was suspending cost-cutting measures at the United States Postal Service. The measures included halting overtime pay necessary to complete daily deliveries, leaving mail behind if it delayed mail carriers’ routes, decommissioning letter-sorting machines and removing blue mailboxes.
These changes were designed to salvage the USPS’ dismal financial position during the pandemic, but much of its woes are the result of deliberate unwillingness on the part of Senate Republicans and the White House to allocate money. The House passed a bill to fund the USPS and reverse DeJoy’s changes, but it’s unlikely to pass the Republican-dominated Senate and would be vetoed by the president if it did.
This fight, however, is not over. Many sorting machines and mailboxes have already been removed and it’s possible that they will not be restored. The White House intends to block funding for federal election aid to states. The Republican National Committee is spending millions of dollars on lawsuits to restrict states’ efforts to expand mail voting. The administration is exploring executive actions to make sure as few ballots are counted as possible.
It is not a coincidence that according to a July ABC News/Washington Post poll, 54% of Biden voters prefer to vote by mail, as opposed to only 17% of Trump supporters. In 2018, initially meager Democratic gains grew as more votes were counted after election day. This year, that "blue shift" effect will likely grow in size as more people vote by mail. The president wants results called on election night, before the likely Democratic-leaning late votes are counted.
By making mail voting unreliable, the administration is saddling Americans with a grim choice: vote by mail and risk having it discarded, or go to the polls in person and risk infection by coronavirus. The intention here is clear: Donald Trump does not plan to win a free and fair election, and if he loses, he will attempt to challenge the result.
What are we to do about it?
If you plan to vote, make a plan now to do so in ways that are most likely to be counted. If you have a mail ballot, skip the USPS entirely and drop it off at a ballot drop box, at an election office or an in-person polling location. In Athens, you can go to the Board of Elections office on East Washington Street. If you must mail your ballot, do so as early as possible.
If you don’t have a mail ballot and you’re in good health, bring your mask and hand sanitizer and vote in person early, when lines are often shorter than on election day.
We may need to do even more. In June, a group of over 100 political officials, operatives and media members in both parties gathered to wargame the November election. They found that short of a landslide result, a constitutional crisis would ensue lasting until the inauguration, with ample opportunities for the president to deploy the power of the executive branch to affect the outcome.
If worst comes to worst, and the election results are irreparably corrupted, then we as a nation must be willing to commit to the democratic process above and beyond the ballot box. We must hold the administration accountable for destroying the sanctity of the vote, and demand that our governor, state legislators, and Congresspeople refuse to cooperate with it. We must, in short, do as the Belarusians do.