Could the fight over mail-in voting decide the election?

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Mike Bebernes
·Editor
·7 min read
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“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

The U.S. Postal Service, normally among the most universally beloved of federal services, has been mired in controversy amid accusations that President Trump and his allies are attempting to stifle mail-in voting for political advantage.

Trump has repeatedly railed against mail-in ballots in recent months, making false claims that they are more vulnerable to fraud than in-person votes and threatening to block emergency spending to support the Postal Service. His campaign has also sued to try to block some states from expanding access to mail-in voting. The coronavirus pandemic is expected to lead to a record number of mail-in votes this election cycle.

The issue rose to the center of public attention following recent reports that new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a major GOP donor and Trump ally, had made a series of operational changes that threatened the agency’s ability to deliver mail-in ballots on time to be counted.

Since DeJoy took over in June, the Postal Service has drastically reduced overtime for letter carriers, banned extra trips to ensure on-time delivery, decommissioned hundreds of high-volume mail-sorting machines and removed mailboxes from streets in cities across the country. DeJoy has said these moves are part of a necessary restructuring to shore up the agency’s struggling budget. On Tuesday he said cost-cutting efforts would be suspended until after the election. The announcement was met with skepticism from Democrats, who had previously accused him of trying to “kneecap” the Postal Service.

Whether the motives are benign or nefarious, the changes have led to reports of significant delays in mail delivery that may carry over to the election. The Postal Service recently informed 46 states that it cannot guarantee all ballots will be delivered in time to be tallied.

Why there’s debate

Conservatives have pushed back on claims that the changes to Postal Service operations are deliberate sabotage, but Trump has left little doubt that he wants to limit the number of mail-in votes cast in the election. There’s no evidence to support assertions that mailed ballots lead to fraud, but experts predict that the mail-in vote will skew strongly in favor of Joe Biden. A much larger share of Democrats than Republicans say they plan to vote by mail, in part because of Trump’s politicization of the issue, polling suggests.

The president’s critics say this partisan imbalance creates incentive for him to interfere with mail-in ballots to limit votes for Biden or create enough confusion to throw the result into question. Many experts, based on current polls, expect in-person GOP voters to give Trump a lead on election night, but the race may tip in Biden’s favor over the following days or weeks as mail-in ballots are tallied. Democrats have posited a scenario where Trump calls foul as his lead disappears and his GOP allies in state legislatures and federal courts help enshrine a fraudulent reelection victory.

Some argue that Trump’s attacks on mail-in voting show just how dire his chances are, given Biden’s current lead in the polls. Others point to a number of steps that state lawmakers and individual voters can take to reduce the role of the Postal Service in delivering mail-in ballots, such as legal challenges and drop-off ballot boxes — a resource Trump took aim at on Monday.

DeJoy’s announcement that cost-cutting measures would be suspended has shown that the public will not tolerate meddling with a venerated institution like the Postal Service, some argue.

Others say Trump’s efforts may backfire by making it politically untenable for Republican lawmakers to stand in the way of extra funding for the post office and giving Biden supporters more determination to ensure their votes are counted. Polls show a majority of the public opposes the president’s intention to block extra funds for the post office, showing the issue may tip some undecided voters into Biden’s camp.

What’s next

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called representatives back from vacation to vote on legislation to block changes to Postal Service procedures. Any bill they pass likely has a slim chance of being approved by the Republican-led Senate and signed by Trump. DeJoy is set to testify before the Senate on Friday and the House next week.

Perspectives

Mail delays could mean millions of votes for Biden go uncounted

“Trump’s efforts to undermine the Postal Service, so Americans can’t reliably or effectively vote by mail, are working. They could very well be sufficient to steal an election, especially since Biden’s healthy national lead in the polls is much tighter in swing states like Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.” — Amanda Marcotte, Salon

Being viewed as sabotaging the Postal Service is a huge political mistake

“Democrats call it voter suppression; we can all agree to call it disturbing. For Republicans trying to stave off a Democratic takeover of the Senate and the White House, owning this outrage is mind-bogglingly dumb.” — A.B. Stoddard, RealClearPolitics

Trump may try to capitalize on confusion caused by delayed vote tallies

“If you had a situation where Republicans are up and Democrats take the lead based on mail ballots, even if that’s a totally normal situation, Trump is absolutely going to try to weaponize that, and claim it’s evidence of some sort of voter fraud or rigged election.” — Voting rights researcher Ari Berman to Vox

The public will be more motivated to vote

“Critically, they have been so blatant and transparent that voter suppression has itself become more of an issue than ever before. The fact that Trump is trying so hard to keep people from voting will only boost the determination of Americans who despise him to get out and vote.” — Paul Waldman, Washington Post

Democrats may not be able to thwart efforts to slow the mail

“Democrats need to accomplish two separate and equally important tasks in order to succeed. First, they need to win more funding for the Postal Service to guarantee it has enough manpower to handle the election. Second, they have to ensure that the administration actually uses the money to restore delivery back to normal. Left to his own devices, it seems unlikely that Donald Trump would cooperate.” — Jordan Weissmann, Slate

Local Republican officials could stifle efforts to overcome mail delays

“Lawmakers should try to increase dropbox locations and speed up counting — reducing Trump’s ability to demagogue the early results — but GOP obstruction might make that impossible.” — Will Bunch, Philadelphia Inquirer

Democrats are stoking a fake conspiracy about mail-in votes

“Conveniently they forget to mention the president is more than an arms-length away from how we vote, and the Postal Service is not under the thumb of his control.” — Jason Chaffetz, Fox News

Postal workers will put in extra work to make sure the election is legitimate

“What will likely have a bigger impact on the election is the avowed determination of the 300,000 letter carriers themselves to deliver the ballots this year no matter what DeJoy and his boss Trump do. ... The message is that nobody is going to steal this election if they can help it, that falsehoods and sabotage are not going to stop letter carriers from doing their sworn duty and thereby enabling people to exercise their right to vote even in a pandemic.” — Michael Daly, Daily Beast

States could make mail delays irrelevant with simple rule changes

“States should adopt a postmark rule, whereby every ballot postmarked on or before November 3 is included in the tally. If the question isn’t whether ballots are received by November 3 but instead whether they’re sent by that date, a deliberately tardy Postal Service no longer poses the same threat.” — Laurence H. Tribe, Jennifer Taub and Joshua A. Geltzer, Atlantic

It may take an unprecedented protest movement to ensure the election is legitimate

“Getting Democrats to use the full extent of their power will not be easy. It will take a mass movement on a scale we have not yet seen, and the mobilization will need to be sustained for weeks and possibly months. Intense pressure from millions of people — that rivals the intensity of the Trump base — will be needed to stiffen the spines of national and state Democratic leaders.” — Frances Fox Piven and Deepak Bhargava, Intercept

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