President Donald Trump’s move to thwart voting by mail during the coronavirus pandemic by denying emergency aid to the U.S. Postal Service is “straight out of a dictator’s playbook,” U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez said Monday morning.
It is the job of Senate Democrats to maintain pressure to protect the U.S Postal Service, Menendez said during an event in support of the agency at the Union City Post Office. Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise joined Menendez and encouraged voters to return their ballots quickly once they receive them.
“We believe that we will create enough heat that ultimately there will have to be hearings for a resolution,” Menendez said of Senate Democrats, who are in the minority and are often stonewalled by Senate Republicans loyal to the president.
Mail delivery has slowed in some areas since Trump appointed Republican megadonor Louis DeJoy as the Postmaster General earlier this summer. DeJoy has altered standard agency procedures at the USPS to cut costs, but the agency has said current delays could cause ballots across the country to arrive too late to be counted in November.
Last week, Trump signaled he was against emergency funding for the Postal Service, repeating unsubstantiated claims of vote-by-mail fraud. The White House has since said it is open to providing aid to the USPS as part of a larger coronavirus relief bill.
On Monday, Menendez stood in front of the main post office in his hometown of Union City, wearing a mask that featured the word “vote” on it.
Many letter carrier and mail sorter positions in New Jersey are currently vacant, said Richard O’Connell Jr., president of the New Jersey State Association of Letter Carriers. The lack of full employment has caused delays in mail delivery, as those still working are forced to deliver to extra addresses, he said.
“The routes that are empty, they want you to do your own route plus an hour or two on another route, so you’re dragging at the end of the day,” O’Connell said. “Routes are six hours to begin with.”
Since DeJoy was appointed in July, the agency has eliminated employee overtime, removed mail-sorting machines from postal facilities, and enacted other measures aimed to cut costs. But as the November election nears, the USPS expects to handle tens of millions of mail-in ballots.
Members of the U.S. House of Representatives are already planning to return to Capitol Hill earlier than scheduled to produce legislation that would stop the U.S. Postal Service from updating procedures in ways that have already proven to delay mail. DeJoy has agreed to appear at a U.S. House Oversight Committee hearing next week.
Meanwhile, seven U.S. Senators are calling for the USPS Board of Governors to reverse DeJoy’s policy changes that have been causing mail delays and remove him if necessary.
Both O’Connell and DeGise advised voters to return their ballots as soon as they can when they receive them in the mail. Drop-off boxes that don’t require the U.S. Postal Service to process them will also be available, they said, as they were for the July primary election.
The union president said he is confident that the election will be able to function properly in New Jersey.
But the Postal Service itself issued a warning Friday that voters in 46 states, including New Jersey are at risk of their ballots not being received in time if they mail them in. The mail delay is already affecting those who receive medications and paychecks in the mail, Menendez said.
“I’ve heard from so many constituents across New Jersey,” he said. “Some have been waiting weeks for lifesaving medication or diabetes supplies.”