Fair election in pandemic-stricken US depends on postal workers

By Beatriz Pascual Macías

Arlington, Virginia, Aug 27 (efe-epa).- With Covid-19 having already claimed 180,000 lives in the United States, many of the 180 million people eligible to cast ballots in the Nov. 3 election may be disenfranchised without efforts by authorities to facilitate voting-by-mail, which President Donald Trump claims – without evidence – is vulnerable to fraud and which threatens to stretch the capacities of the already battered Postal Service.

“I actually just requested my ballot right now to vote by mail in Virginia,” Chris Ash, a career diplomat with the US State Department, told Efe outside a post office in the Washington suburb of Arlington where he had gone to send a package to his parents in Massachusetts. Ash, who has voted by mail while on assignment in countries such as Finland, Indonesia and Afghanistan, said he went onto a state government website and “filled out information that can verify my identity.”

“Approximately 30 days before the election I’ll have a ballot,” he said. “I have confidence the system will work: my vote will get there and get counted.”

Like most Americans, according to polls, Ash has a positive view of the US Postal Service (USPS), but complaints of late delivery have been growing since Louis DeJoy, a millionaire businessman and big donor to Trump and other Republicans, became postmaster general and began making changes to operating procedures.

DeJoy insists the changes are not intended to sabotage postal voting in the country that leads the world in coronavirus cases and deaths, but the president has said openly that he is refusing to provide extra funding to the USPS because he opposes massive voting-by-mail.

“I think the president and his administration want fear, uncertainty and confusion to surround the post office,” James S. O’Rourke, a professor at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, told Efe.

O’Rourke, who has spent 15 years studying the operations and finances of the US Postal Service, said that Trump hopes to take advantage of a chaotic situation to proclaim himself the election winner.

“I have no doubt that his plan is to say the day after the election ‘I think I won’ – no matter what the vote is – ‘I think I won. Nobody knows where the ballots are. Everybody’s crooked. The election was rigged. We either leave me as president for the next four years or we get a do-over,’ people keep voting till he gets the result he wants,” the professor said.

Consistent with his role as an academic, O’Rourke said that he has always been “scrupulously objective.”

“What I would do when reporters and others asked me questions is point to the numbers. I would look at the revenues. I would look at the costs and I would say ‘draw your own conclusions.’ But this is an inescapable conclusion,” he said.

DeJoy’s actions since becoming postmaster are part of a long-standing ideological project to reduce public services and the size of government, according to O’Rourke.

The financial woes of the Postal Service, cited by DeJoy and others as showing the need for what they call reform, are due in great part to a law passed in 2006 that required to prefund 75 years’ worth of retiree health benefits by 2016.

“No other private enterprise or federal agency is required to prefund retiree health benefits on a comparable timetable. The mandate is responsible for all of USPS’s financial losses since 2013,” according to the office of Democratic Congressman Peter DeFazio of Oregon, author of a bill to undo the mandate.

Trump appears to fear that postal voting would undermine the efforts by Republican state governments to make it more difficult for Blacks and Hispanics to cast ballots.

O’Rourke, however, noted the absence of evidence that postal voting favors Democrats and said that many rural Republicans have come to depend on voting-by-mail because they live far from polling places.

Eileen Fredrikson, an immigrant from New Zealand who became a US citizen earlier this year, came to the post office in Arlington from her home in Falls Church, Virginia, 13km (8mi) away.

“I was very excited to go and vote in person, but I’m in my early 70s and this is not an age group that should be standing in lines with lots of people,” she said of her plans for the election.

“Then I thought of the post office, but recently there have been so many troubles that I have been advised that the best way to vote is to go to your local ballot box,” she said.

“In Falls Church city we have one outside our city government building, so I’m going to vote early, which I’ve also been advised is a good thing to do, and I’m going to put my vote in the ballot box,” Fredrikson said.

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