Don’t Mess With The Mail

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Our highly reliable postal carrier is a cheerful, middle-aged woman with blond hair and wire-rim glasses. Often, we get packages — usually from Amazon and delivered by the U.S. Postal Service — that won’t fit in the mailbox. When that occurs, she climbs out of her un-airconditioned cargo van, regardless of the weather, and brings not only the boxes but the regular mail and puts all of it on our front porch. My study is next to the front door and often I’m at the computer. Sometimes I’ll see her walking back down the driveway out the nearby picture window. I’ll open the door, holler “Thank you” and pick up the mail. She’ll smile and wave back, say “You’re welcome.” She has been our carrier the entire eight-plus years we have lived in this bucolic neighborhood.

My late mother’s youngest brother, Emile, was a postal carrier his whole working life. He trudged through a route in New Hampshire, where the snow often piled up high enough that our dad would have to shovel his way out the front door to get to the driveway. Uncle Emil seemed to relish his job. At least, that was my impression as a kid. I never got to ask him as an adult, and he passed away several years ago.

For years, I have relied on the USPS to deliver most of my prescriptions. Ordering 90 days’ worth at a time via the mail has saved me thousands of dollars over the decades because of the generous benefits of my health insurance. Not once has an order been lost. In fact, it is exceedingly rare that any mail has come up missing. I subscribe to 10 magazines that arrive at the appointed time each month.

It is also true that, like many, we have converted nearly all our bill paying to online. A sheet of stamps lasts us for months now. I write just a few checks a month, usually for repairs. Multiply that by tens of millions of people, and it’s easy to understand why the USPS loses billions of dollars and is seeking additional congressional funding. Another key factor : the USPS is required to fund a congressionally mandated retirement program that no other federal agency is required to prefund. According to Notre Dame business professor James O’ Rourke, that alone creates a $6.5 billion shortfall for USPS. Congress could fix that, but so far has shown no inclination to do so.

The USPS faces serious challenges. Its new postmaster general and President Trump are not helping matters, and the ability to vote by mail is threatened. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a high-dollar Trump contributor, has turned the USPS topsy-turvy, attempting to pull nearly 700 high-speed mail-sorting machines nationwide, which the Washington Post reported would have eliminated 21.4 million items per hour from the agency’s capability.

Until it was halted, stand-alone mailboxes in several states were being removed. And until he reversed course under serious pressure this week, DeJoy also had virtually eliminated overtime, meaning mail was stacking up in distribution centers, with carriers prohibited from making additional trips to ensure timely delivery. This caused a huge public outcry, as it should. DeJoy on Tuesday announced he was “suspending” all these cuts until after the November election, though it’s unclear if the sorting machines already pulled would be returned.

The postal service is used by virtually everyone. Its operation is mandated by the Constitution. Yes, it loses money, and reasonable efforts should be made to ensure it loses as little as possible and still provide reliable service. But the USPS is not designed to make a profit, any more than other key parts of government, such as law enforcement, fire protection, or road construction and maintenance.

Trump last week admitted he opposed additional funding because it would facilitate mail voting that he believes would favor Democratic candidates and increase voter fraud. Neither statement is true. (No surprise there.) Until the pandemic, five states exclusively used vote by mail: Oregon, Colorado, Washington, Hawaii and Utah. The latter state votes reliably Republican. Mail voting has been expanded during the pandemic, though not in Texas, unfortunately. The president’s false claims of widespread voter fraud have been disproven time and again, but that does not stop him from repeating them. He should be ignored. Voter fraud is a unicorn.

We should be doing everything possible to ensure the greatest voter participation, no matter the outcome of a given election. Decades of efforts at voter suppression have taken their toll on American’s confidence in the electoral system and whether our vote matters. It most certainly does matter, and the November general election matters more than any held in my lifetime. These efforts to suppress mail balloting, reduce polling locations, and slow down the mail must be recognized for what they are: attempts to subvert democracy.

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