Commentary: How to safeguard a fair and secure presidential election

By Patricia Frey

Despite sharp political divides, the U.S. Postal Service remains one of the few federal agencies in which a vast majority of Americans have faith and confidence. Recent approval ratings indicate more than 90% of responders approve of the Postal Service. The Constitution gave Congress the right to establish a national postal service, and it is required by law to serve all Americans wherever they live with uniform costs and service.

The Postal Service is self-funded and tax-exempt. It remains the most reliable service in the world for mail and package delivery. Until many of us stopped mailing letters, cards and postcards, it had billion-dollar surpluses each year.

Of late, the Postal Service has been bleeding money. There are many factors for this, but the biggest is a 2006 law from a Republican Congress requiring the Postal Service prefund its retiree health care plan. This siphons billions (yes, billions) of dollars each year from its bottom line, funds that otherwise would be available for upgrades, stable postal rates and improvement of services. No other federal department is required to do that.

With the nation in the grip of a viral pandemic, millions have legitimate concerns about health safety while voting at polling stations. State election department leaders are addressing concerns by putting polling station safety guidelines in place. Delaware wisely piggybacked that law on its decades-old, successful and respected absentee ballot voting system to minimize hitches. So, the Postal Service must be prepared for an enormous increase in mail volume.

President Donald Trump’s displeasure with the Postal Service is publicly known. He peddles the false idea that “mail-in ballots” (vote by mail) are different from absentee ballots. Some states have used voting by mail either as their primary or sole voting system for years without significant evidence of inaccurate or fraudulent actions. As to his claim that absentee ballots and vote-by-mail ballots are very different, the Delaware Department of Elections’ website eplains the difference, saying “A reason is required to vote by absentee ballot. No reason is required to vote by mail. Functionally, however, the process is very similar.” That, of course, means that the checks and balances used to assure the accuracy of a vote cast by absentee ballot are also in place to assure the same accuracy in a vote cast under the new vote by mail law.

Now throw into the mix a new postmaster general; Louis DeJoy took office June 15. He is the first person in that position in more than 40 years who has no experience in the Postal Service. He is a strong Trump supporter, and when you follow the money in politics, it often explains what otherwise seems highly unusual, i.e., a man with no postal experience appointed as postmaster general.

DeJoy’s earliest actions, in a message to the American Postal Workers Union, included two directives that will have negative, real-world effect on timely delivery and leave-no-mail-behind standards long the pride of the Postal Service:

• Overtime will be eliminated. Currently, 20% of all work by mail handlers, city carriers and postal drivers is done in overtime. Internal Postal Service assessments have found use of overtime to be more cost-effective than hiring additional workers, because of that 2006 law which requires prefunding of retiree health benefits.

• Extra trips to processing stations will be eliminated or curtailed. Each mail truck can hold only so many containers of mail. When volume goes up, as package volume has done in this pandemic, workers will make an extra trip to the processing station to make sure everything gets delivered on time. Without these extra trips, packages and mail will sit at the station. But as volumes increase, as they will when millions of Americans cast their votes by mail, a snowball effect may mean days of delay may grow into weeks.

Here are ways to help safeguard a fair and secure presidential election in Delaware.

• Vote! Whether you choose to vote at the polls or do it by mail, vote. It is both a civic duty and a right. Many have fought and died so we might have that precious freedom. If you are not yet registered to vote, do it as soon as possible.

• If you are registered to vote, you will receive a vote by mail ballot application. This is an application not a ballot, so if you are voting by mail, complete the form, sign legibly and consistent with on your voter registration signature, and ensure your address is current and correct. Complete the application form as soon as possible and get it back to your county elections office in one of the four ways noted. The sooner you get the correctly completed application to the elections office, the sooner you will get your ballot. Timing will be critical! Then, legibly complete the ballot and follow the directions for getting it back to the elections office as soon as possible. Follow the instructions. Telephone and fax numbers, email addresses, physical addresses and county election websites you may need on the application form.

• Do not take your mail ballot to the polling station on Election Day. It will not be accepted.

• Vote by mail ballots may be delivered in-person and deposited in the secure ballot drop box, which will be available at each county elections office. It must be in that drop box by 8 p.m. on Election Day, but please don’t wait that long! Using the drop box option will reduce Postal Service mail load.

Every Delaware voter who wishes to vote by mail must use the process to apply for a vote by mail ballot. I suspect that even Republicans will be glad to have the option to cast ballots safely.

Whatever the cost of vote by mail, I suggest that it be taken from the Miscellaneous Appropriations section in the not-yet-voted-on COVID-19 relief bill (the HEALS Act) put forward by the Republican-controlled Senate. In that section, the Department of Defense would be allocated an extra $29.4 billion, including about $700 million for F-35s, over and above the already bloated military budget. That same section includes $1.75 billion for construction of a new FBI building and $377 million for White House improvements. There is no/nada/zilch money allocated in the Postal Service section of the HEALS Act. What chutzpah.

It seems like there’s a concerted effort by both Trump and the Senate GOP to throw shade on the election, make it more difficult for people to vote, undermine the Postal Service and lay the groundwork to contest election results. Do not allow the trash talk coming from the White House undermine your belief and confidence in America’s ability to hold a safe and fair election. Let’s vote in such large numbers that the results are clear and uncontestable.

Patricia Frey resides in Dagsboro.