U.S. Sens. Bob Menendez (D-North Bergen), Cory Booker (D-Newark) and 45 of their Democratic colleagues urged Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to rescind changes to U.S. Postal Service policy that would make sending mail-in ballots more costly.
“Instead of taking steps to increase your agency’s ability to deliver for the American people, you are implementing policy changes that make matters worse,” the Democrats said in a letter to DeJoy. “The Postal Service is reportedly considering changes that would increase costs for states at a time when millions of Americans are relying on voting by mail to exercise their right to vote.”
At issue is a policy that could require to pay first-class postage rates. The new rule would essentially triple the already prohibitive cost of mailing ballots as states prepare for a general election that will make greater use of mail-in and absentee voting than ever before.
Currently, some clerks and election officials mark ballots as marketing mail, which carries a lower price and delivery priority, though some New Jersey counties — Essex County, for one — send out ballots using first-class mail.
But the longstanding policy at USPS has been to treat all mail-in ballots as first-class mail, regardless of the rates paid by election officials or voters, and the shift could further delay ballots at a time when USPS delivery times have roughly doubled because of new policies instituted under DeJoy, a major donor and supporter of President Donald Trump.
“If any changes are made to longstanding practices of moving election mail just months ahead of the 2020 general election, it will cause further delays to election mail that will disenfranchise voters and put significant financial pressure on election jurisdictions,” the senators said. “Many state deadlines allow voters to request absentee ballot applications and absentee ballots within a few days of Election Day, so it is vital that standard delivery times remain low and pricing remain consistent with past practices to which election officials and voters are accustomed.”
Any delivery delays could disenfranchise large swaths of voters.
While New Jersey accepts mail-in ballots postmarked by election day so long as they arrive within 48 hours of the close of polls — this period was extended to seven days for the primaries and will likely see a similar extension in November — but not all states provide a similar grace period.
During non-partisan municipal elections held in May, more than 10% of all mail-in ballots cast were tossed because they did not reach election officials in time. Postal Service delays were often responsible for disenfranchising some voters. In some places, more than 20% of returned mail-in ballots went uncounted.
The seven-day grace period dropped ballot rejection rates to just 2%, but it’s possible that more delays at USPS will see voter disenfranchisement surge back up.
“As Postmaster General, you have a duty to our democracy to ensure the timely delivery of election mail. Millions of Americans’ right to vote depends on your ability to get the job done,” the Democrats said. “We urge you not to increase costs for election officials, and to direct all Postal Service employees to continue to prioritize delivery of election mail.”
Chief among the lawmakers’ concerns is a belief that DeJoy is attempting to spike mail-in voting amid the pandemic in a bid to advantage Trump’s re-election campaign against former Vice President Joe Biden.
Trump has repeatedly derided mail-in voting as a practice fraught with fraud, though he’s cited little evidence to support those claims.
At the same time, Trump has said the Postal Service would be unable to administer a widespread vote-by-mail program without additional funding, which the president has staunchly opposed during COVID-19 stimulus negotiations.