The House of Representatives returned to Washington on Saturday to vote on a measure to reverse changes and provide $25 billion in additional funding to the U.S. Postal Service, as Democrats and activists suspect that the slowed service is part of President Donald Trump attempt to stymie vote-by-mail efforts in this fall’s election.
The issue has gained particular resonance among activists in the entertainment and media business, who have used their high profile platforms to sound the alarm over the changes, even as U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy insists that the efforts changes are not politically motivated.
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Last week, author Meg Gardiner had been chatting with her mother, who mentioned that the drive-up postal boxes she had used near her home in Santa Barbara had been removed.
“The drive-up lane was blocked off and she was taken aback,” Gardiner said in an interview. Already aware of reports of similar instances of service cutbacks and mail delays, Gardiner said that it made her think, “I wanted to add my very informal report to the national conversation.”
She tweeted it out. “My mom went to drop off her mail at the mailbox she’s used for *decades* and found the site blocked off. The mailboxes are being ripped out. She’s 85. This is how she pays her bills. She knows this is deliberate. Santa Barbara, California.”
My mom went to drop off her mail at the mailbox she’s used for *decades* and found the site blocked off. The mailboxes are being ripped out. She’s 85. This is how she pays her bills. She knows this is deliberate. Santa Barbara, California.
— Meg Gardiner (@MegGardiner1) August 16, 2020
The tweet got about 70 likes that event, Gardiner said. When she woke up in the next morning, there were tens of thousands of likes. It drew more than 13,000 retweets. That was an unusually high response from her social media following, she said.
“I have never had anything go viral like this,” she said, adding that she got “lots of responses by people boosting the message. A lot of people are writing about similar stories happening in their hometowns.”
She also tweeted about where people had placed flowers on the spot where the boxes were removed.
Today, in Santa Barbara, at the spot where the mailboxes were removed. pic.twitter.com/1xOYZe3o6b
— Meg Gardiner (@MegGardiner1) August 17, 2020
Gardiner reported this week that the boxes have returned, but she said that her original tweet had drawn 1.8 million views so far, as it was retweeted by figures such as Stephen King.
“I’m glad people are interested and concerned about the issue,” she said.
Earlier this week, director David Lynch deviated from his regular weather report to express support for postal workers and “how much we need and appreciate them.”
The Democrats’ legislation would provide the additional funding to the Postal Service and also ban the reorganization of the post office until after the election.
The issue has galvanized celebrity activists on the left — such as Alyssa Milano and Debra Messing — but it’s just part of concerns among Democrats over voter suppression in the fall.
Some Republicans have accused Democrats of trumpeting up the changes at the Post Office to create a false hysteria over the election.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) called the claims a “conspiracy theory,” and said that the “willing media is once again happily playing along.”
While Trump has triggered some of the Democrats’ concern — as when he told Fox News that the postal service needs the additional money” in order to make the Post Office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots” — some of the anecdotal stories traded on social media have been debunked.
One post shared widely last weekend showed a stack of mailboxes in Wisconsin. Among those who shared it was actress Jeri Ryan, who wrote, “THEY AREN’T EVEN TRYING TO HIDE IT NOW.”
But Facebook flagged the photo as containing partly false information. Politifact ruled that the claim, that the photo were evidence of voter suppression, was false. Instead, the boxes were being removed as part of routine maintenance.
That doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been a slowdown in the mail service, though.
On Friday, DeJoy testified before a Senate committee chaired by Johnson that he was suspending operations changes until after the election, but he would not reverse some of those that have already been made, like the removal of sorting machines.
He insisted, though, that some of the changes were already in the works before he took his position, and he blamed many of the delays on COVID-19. He said that the removal of mail-sorting machines and mail boxes were part of plans to boost efficiency or part of regular maintenance.
He also said that he was “extremely, highly confident” that all ballots that are sent out at least week before Election Day would arrive in time to elections officials to be counted.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) suggested to DeJoy that some of the concerns over changes at the post office have been fueled by Trump’s claims that mail-in voting is fraudulent, even though there is little evidence to support mass efforts to rig the election.
“You can certainly understand that there have been pretty good reasons for people to think that you or your colleagues are purposely acting to suppress voting, or that you’re going to purposefully prevent ballots from being counted,” Romney told DeJoy.
DeJoy, though, said that he supported voting by mail.
He will be in the hotseat again on Monday, when he testifies before a House committee.
Pelosi wrote in a letter to members this week that she spoke to DeJoy this week, and found that his proposal to pause changes to the postal service are “wholly insufficient and does not reverse damage already wreaked.”
“The Postmaster General also admitted that he had no intention of replacing the sorting machines, blue mailboxes and other key mail infrastructure that have been removed and that plans to ensure sufficient overtime, which is critical for the timely delivery of mail, are not in the works,” she wrote.
DeJoy told the Senate committee that he didn’t need to additional funding to get the mail delivered by election night — if voters get their ballots out seven days before the election. The White House has indicated that Trump will veto the Democrats’ bill — were it ever to pass the Republican-controlled Senate.
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