Unions: Vote by mail now more than ever

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) greets a letter carrier outside his home in Southeast Portland. (Photo courtesy of Twitter)

By Noah Wass

The push for national vote-by-mail is timelier than ever in the midst of a pandemic, but postal union leaders say it won’t matter much if the U.S. Postal Service isn’t around. Barring significant federal appropriation from Congress, the U.S. Postal Service will run out of operating funds by the end of September.

“Over and over again we have proven that we can process and deliver ballots in a secure and timely way for tens of millions of people, for absentee ballots and overseas voters,” said American Postal Workers Union president Mark Dimondstein in a May 27 press call with national postal union leaders. “With the pandemic, I think it’s even clearer if people are going to have access to the ballot box we have got to have a vibrant postal service.”

In 2000, Oregon became the first state to conduct a general presidential election entirely by mail, and since then members of Oregon’s Congressional delegation have championed its expansion. Congressman Earl Blumenauer introduced a bill March 11 to require states to allow registered voters to vote by mail when at least 25% of states have declared a state of emergency due to natural disaster or infectious disease. And on March 18 U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden joined Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar in introducing a bill to ensure that all voters have the option to vote by mail during an emergency.

President Trump has attacked vote-by-mail however.

 

Twitter responded by appending a fact-checking link to the president’s tweet for the first time ever, pointing out that there’s no evidence that mail-in ballots are linked to voter fraud.

Though Trump may try to portray vote-by-mail as a partisan issue, a recent Reuters/IPSOS poll shows that 72% of American adults are in favor of vote-by-mail for the Nov. 3 election, and election administrators in at least seven Republican-led states have expanded vote-by-mail with bi-partisan support.

Letter carriers work long hours on overburdened routes to deliver election mail, but say they are proud to accomplish it.

“Every election year the workload increases, and it’s hectic for us carriers,” said Randall Hoxie, a letter carrier in Southeast Portland and a steward for Branch 82 of the National Association of Letter Carriers. “But this is the most challenging out of my experience in 16 years at the post office, with the virus and the number of people out sick.”

Hoxie said the average carrier is stressed out.

“But with solidarity, I believe we can get through this,” Hoxie said.

USPS is in financial trouble chiefly because in 2006 Congress mandated that it pre-pay retiree health benefits up to 75 years in advance. Since then, the resulting financial burden has led to operating losses at the Postal Service. A dramatic drop-off in mail volume since March has made its financial position much worse.

Blumenauer told the Labor Press the House included $25 billion in direct funding for the USPS in the HEROES Act, a second round stimulus bill that passed the House May 15. But the bill has not moved forward in the Republican-controlled Senate.

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