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Columnists

Sabotaging the Post Office

August 25, 2020

President Trump believes heavy voting by mail will lead to his defeat. Rather than concentrating on winning more supporters for his policies, he has opted to suppress voter turnout by assaulting the U.S. Postal service. Trump’s fixation on thwarting voting by mail has blinded him to the continuing value of one of the nation’s oldest and most treasured institutions.

The internet, electronic banking, mobile phones, and other new technologies have drastically curtailed the amount of print matter going through the mail. Nonetheless, Americans still depend on the post office for their medications, utility bills, income tax refunds, social security checks, credit card bills, and/or other vital financial communications. Especially affected are military veterans as many Veteran’s Administration benefits are done by mail.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is a businessman and a major financial supporter of Trump, but a person without experience in the field. His hypocritical claim that he is trying to improve service is belied by his elimination of overtime hours for postal workers. Thus, mail still not completely delivered is left for the next day. Such sorting occurs several times in the delivery process. The result has been inordinate delays in mail delivery.

Further delays have been caused by closing down hundreds of mail sorting machines. A task that took a machine with two workers to complete now takes thirty-two workers working for longer periods. Removal of many postal drop boxes from public places is another measure touted as cost-saving.

Instead if assisting states cutting their costs, DeJoy has reinforced Trump’s hostility to mail-in balloting  by informing state governments  that unless they use costly first-class mail rather than much cheaper mass mailings, getting ballots delivered on time would be unlikely. In primary elections this year, some 65,000 otherwise valid votes were not counted due to late arrival.

Most Americans would be surprised to know that the postal service would be running a profit were it not for a Congressional Act passed in 2006 that requires it to save $75 billion to fund healthcare and pensions for its 650,000 employees seventy-five years in advance. No other public agency or private employer is so required. Amending that requirement would end the temporary need for one-time emergency funding for the cash-strapped postal service which otherwise gets no federal aid.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has cut short Congressional summer vacations to prepare a stand-alone postal service funding bill. Trump is opposed to new legislation as it would facilitate voting by mail. He continually charges, without any evidence, that mailed ballots are subject to easy tampering. The reality is that there have been technical problems in primaries but nothing illicit. Most fraud occurs with in-person voting with inexplicable voting machine breakdowns, ‘lost’ ballot boxes, and tampering with voter registration rolls,

Some Republicans are upset by Trump’s perspective as mail-in voters traditionally have tilted Republican. In Florida, for example, the heavy mail-in voting by seniors has often provided Republicans their margin of victory in close elections. Republicans also are embarrassed that Trump personally votes by mail, another instance of him saying; do I as I say, not as I do.

Businesses are concerned as many use the postal service at a time when demand for home delivery has doubled. Small businesses that cannot afford expensive private services and small publications dependent on subscribers have emphasized that prompt delivery of products is essential to their survival.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the trend to voting by mail. Many Americans are reluctant to risk their health by in-person voting. Massive mail voting has been practiced by several states quite successfully for many years with no instances of fraud to speak of.

More mail voting also will likely increase the participation of those who find in-person voting difficult. Tuesday is a workday, resulting in voting sites having long waiting lines early and late in the day. In-person voting also is often affected by inclement weather. Seniors, the ill, single parents, and members of families in which all the adults have full-time jobs are often unable to vote in person but would and do vote by mail. Responsible government would make that easier rather than harder.

The writers of the constitution believed good government demanded an informed electorate. Given that print media was then the major form of communication, a low cost, universal, and efficient postal service was considered a requirement for democracy to survive. The importance of that service was emphasized by the appointment of the beloved and renowned Benjamin Franklin as the first postmaster general.

Despite changes in how the postal service is used, it remains essential to the American economy and mass communications. The best form remains the one envisioned by the founders of the nation: a not-for-profit governmental unit that serves the public interest.  Donald Trump’s approach involves wrong changes at the wrong time for the wrong reasons. 

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