By Jesse Jackson Sr., Guest Columnist
Lagging in the polls, President Donald Trump has launched a campaign to discredit the upcoming election and disparage the U.S. Postal Service.
He has repeated the utterly baseless claim that voting by mail — the safest way to vote in a pandemic — will lead to massive fraud. He has opposed aid to states that would help prepare for massive vote by mail and blocked the $25 billion the Postal Service needs to make up for lost revenue in the pandemic.
His intent is clear, alleging that without the money, “you can’t have universal mail-in voting because they are not equipped to have it.”
Trump has even suggested that ballots that are cast before Election Day but not received until after Election Day should not be counted. Since polls show his supporters are more likely to vote in person and Democratic voters more likely to vote by mail, Trump may believe that sowing panic about voting by mail may enable him to steal an election he would otherwise lose.
This assault on the Postal Service and the election is disgraceful and dishonest. In reality, voting by mail has been used by millions of voters, including President Trump and his family, who routinely vote by mail. Thirty-one million votes were cast by mail in 2018 with no evidence of meaningful fraud.
Moreover, if — and that’s a big if — allowed to do its work, the U.S. Postal Service can easily handle the surge of mail that might result from 150 million Americans choosing to vote by mail this fall rather than vote in person. As Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union reported on my radio show, the Postal Service routinely handles 500 million pieces of mail a day. Around Christmas, that surges to more than 600 million a day, with postal workers pushing to get cards delivered in time for the holiday.
With more than 30,000 post offices across the country, postal workers, essential workers in the pandemic, take their mission — to bind the nation together and render postal services to all communities — seriously. That’s why the post office consistently enjoys overwhelming support from Americans across the political spectrum.
The only question is whether Trump, the Republican Senate, and Trump’s postmaster general and aides will succeed in sabotaging the Post Office so it can’t do its job.
In recent weeks, Louis DeJoy, Trump’s postmaster general, a multimillionaire in office for little more than a month, imposed a series of “reforms” — without consultation with postal workers, customers or local communities — that are slowing the delivery of the mail.
These include cutting back hours, eliminating overtime, removing mail processing equipment and mailboxes. With the Postal Service already understaffed, the result is to delay the mail. That endangers not only votes cast by mail, but the delivery of medication to seniors and veterans, the delivery of Social Security checks and much more.
The USPS has now announced that it won’t treat votes by mail as priority mail without first class postage and informed 46 states that, under their current deadlines, it can’t guarantee delivery of mailed in ballots in time to be counted.
Both of these efforts — the effort to suppress the vote and to undermine the U.S. Postal Service — are part of longer-term Republican plans. The Trump administration has announced that it wants to privatize the Postal Service, selling off pieces to private companies.
DeJoy, with multimillion-dollar investments in private competitors to the Post Office, has both financial and ideological interest in doing just that. Republicans have forced the Post Office to prepay its pension obligations — something no other company or agency in the country is forced to do — in order to cripple its ability to finance its own operations. Delaying service of the mail is a feature of their plan, not a bug.
Similarly, Republican efforts to suppress the vote aren’t limited to Trump’s blatant assault on voting by mail. Republicans have amassed a war chest of $20 million for legions of lawyers to fight against any efforts to make registration or voting more accessible. They’ve lined up thousands of volunteers to harass and intimidate voters at the polls.
The head of a minority party, Trump stated the obvious, saying that if everyone could vote, Republicans would never be elected.
This disgraceful assault on our democracy and on our postal service is already meeting resistance. Demonstrators paraded in front of DeJoy’s private residence in Washington, D.C., House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is convening the House to grill DeJoy on his actions, and to pass standalone legislation to block any changes in operation that would delay delivery of the mail.
Passage will require Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell and the Republican Senate majority to stand up for a safe election in the pandemic.
Citizens should be mobilizing pressure across the country, with demonstrations at post offices in support of the service, with calls to legislators demanding action, with pressure on state and local election officials to provide the resources needed for more drop-off boxes, more hours of early voting, more polling places. LeBron James and the Los Angeles Dodgers are opening up Dodger Stadium to allow voters to vote at a safe distance. Every professional, college and high school stadium should join in this effort to ensure that voting is safe.
And we need to vote in large numbers and early. If voting by mail, mail your ballot in early or take it to a drop-off box to ensure delivery. Don’t wait for November; cast it before Oct. 25. If voting in person, vote early to avoid long lines on Election Day. Make certain you know where your precinct is — Republicans have been eliminating precincts, and election officials have been closing polling places, particularly in black and brown communities.
Trump is afraid that if Americans vote in large numbers — particularly people of color whom he has continually insulted — he will lose. We must act now to overcome whatever obstacles he erects to make that fear come true.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. is founder and president of the Rainbow Push Coalition.