Most Americans living outside the US depend on the US Post Office to deliver their ballots for US elections. But, this year, will the ballots arrive back in time to be counted?
It’s the question that nags at a few Democrats Abroad Greece (DAGR) members. So, they decided to take a small, symbolic step and ask the Democratic Party to take a strong stand for absentee voting rights.
At the global level, Democrats Abroad has been looking at solutions that include urging states to accept ballots by email attachment and fax. A few states do; most do not. And not all state legislatures, where voting practice is decided, are anxious to encourage full voting rights. Failing a secure way to transmit ballots, voters are left with trying to get them back as best they can.
In past years, most US voters abroad sent their ballots back by regular mail or by courier if time was short. Some voters took advantage of the embassy’s diplomatic pouch. It was considered fast and secure, although not a good solution for tardy voters. The ballot still had to be mailed to their home county after the pouch arrived in DC and could arrive too late.
US federal law sets broad rules for elections. Among these, all voters, no matter their state, are allowed to vote in federal elections, that is for President and House and Senate seats. It also requires the states to send out absentee ballots 45 days before the election. This year, they’ll be sent out on September 19. Voters who specify delivery by email or fax will get theirs the same day. Those who ask for the hard copy with return envelopes to be sent by mail used to get them within about a week. Now, arrival of the blank ballot sheet is also uncertain.
As for returning ballots, the current view is even cloudier. Embassy “diplomatic pouches” are reputed to be taking longer. Current word has it as long as several weeks to arrive in the US (plus local mailing after entering the country), while the latest date after Election Day is 10 days for some states, and by Election Day for others.
Mail service out of countries abroad is similarly uncertain this year, while couriers may be costly. A recent quote for an A4 standard weight envelope was €62!
The possible failure of stateside mail in November arises from two factors. First, the US Postal Service has been underfunded for four decades and may run out of operating money this September. Second, the Covid pandemic has hit the USPS from all sides. As flights and cargo were blocked initially, mail originating overseas was delayed. Delivery of packages in the US has expanded due to phone and online ordering of supplies. But, USPS employees, initially not provided with PPE, have been infected, some 2000 quarantined by the end of April. This reduces available staff to deal with the backlog as commerce picks up.
Worse yet, the recently appointed head of the USPS, Louis DeJoy, a person with no USPS experience but plenty in the private logistics field, has reportedly ordered mail staff to sort what they can and leave the rest for the next shift. The backlogs will, presumably, build up until a lot of mail doesn’t get delivered on time.
The primary cause of USPS underfunding is a 1970 law (The Postal Reorganization Act) that requires its pensions to be funded 75 years into the future. No other government agency or private business is so required. Why? A likely answer lies in a movement some 50 years old and funded by the rightwing Koch family to drive the post office into the ground and then demand its privatization.
Against this foreshadowing of mail failure, Dems in Greece decided to do what they could, apart from signing all the online petitions. First of all, Democrats Abroad, or Democratic Party Committee Abroad (DPCA) as it’s formally known, is an official committee of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). The voting members of DPCA are the chair, vice chair and, in larger committees, voting representatives, of each Country Committee. DAGR, a smaller country committee, has two, its chair, Stacey Harris-Papaioannou, and its vice chair, Brady Kiesling. They also lead the 11-member board (ExCom) that acts officially for DAGR.
So, any member of DAGR can bring a matter of concern to the ExCom to act on. This time, a few members who’ve been following the mail uncertainties decided to make an official request for a resolution to start here and go straight to the top. The draft is simple:
“Because the majority of Americans living outside the US borders depend on the US Post Office to deliver our ballots to our Local Election Officials, and because the USPS is currently underfunded to the point it may run out of operating funds in September 2020, we call on our elected officials to fully fund the USPS at least through the end of the year, so that the November 2020 general election can go forward, disenfranchising no eligible US voter. While this is crucial to those of us living abroad, it is also of vital, life-saving interest to our fellow voters inside the US, many of whom will depend on receiving and returning mail-in ballots. It is also the least we can do to provide PPE and safe working conditions for our mail processors and carriers to perform their duties without risking their lives and livelihoods.”
The Resolution was approved in a special e-vote called last night and sent to the global DA board. They are expected to approve it in their regular meeting on Friday. And if approved, it will be sent to the DNC. From there, it’s up to the Democratic caucus in House and Senate to put their weight behind it. Funding for the USPS is included in the HEROES Act, the second major piece of legislation passed by the US House of Representatives to deal with Covid-19. The HEROES Act, which as written provides $25 billion in emergency funding for the USPS, is currently stalled in the US Senate.
The small, symbolic step taken in Greece is democracy in action. According to DAGR member Karen Lee, one of the 8 who put forward the proposal, “This is why we belong to DAGR. Because it’s an official part of the Democratic Party, it’s a conduit for voters’ voices to be carried straight to the DNC.”
The resolution is timed to reach DC over the weekend, which, by no coincidence, marks 200 years of public postal service in the US. Says DAGR Chair Papaioannou, “We hope it’s a fitting 200th Birthday present to the Postal Service and a real help to American voters this November!”
Broad information on USPS employee Covid infection/quarantine April 2020 http://www.businessinsider.com/coronavirus-usps-employees-test-positive-2000-in-quarantine-2020-3
Postmaster General DeJoy http://www.newsweek.com/trump-donor-louis-dejoy-confirmed-postmaster-general-1502579
Postal Union (APWU) statement on DeJoy directives http://www.apwu.org/news/message-members-apwu-national-executive-board-response-postmaster-general