In 31 years with the United States Postal Service, Bill Polley never saw anything like the USPS warning Connecticut’s Secretary of the State that not all presidential election mail-in ballots will arrive in time to be counted.
“We treat elections, both locally and nationally, as sacred,” Polley said. He’s now retired and is president of the Western Connecticut chapter of the American Postal Workers Union.
“When you come to an election, everybody knows you can’t not process the mail every day. Never has it impacted an election,” he said.
Organizational cost-cutting plans put into motion by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy include slashing overtime, removing processing machines and delaying the collection and sorting of mail. Critics like U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal argue that these changes constitute election interference, and reference President Donald Trump’s public statements that he is blocking USPS funding because vote-by-mail would threaten his reelection.
“The President is saying he is going to starve and strangle the Postal Service, particularly on mail-in balloting,” Blumenthal said in a press conference last week. “Delaying delivery of political mail is a real threat here and it can disenfranchise voters across the board if it is not quickly repaired.”
In light of Connecticut and 19 other states announcing plans to file federal lawsuits, DeJoy said Tuesday that he’d postpone the operational changes until after the election. He also told Congress that the Postal Service is “perfectly capable” of handling the millions of anticipated mail-in ballots, though the USPS said in a press release that voters should mail ballots earlier than usual.
But Jan White, president of the Hartford-area APWU, said that all of DeJoy’s proposed changes could potentially cause long-term damage beyond the election. She noted the delays in medication delivery and of important documentation – her own daughter has still not received unemployment information, White said.
“It’s a postal service, not a postal business,” White explained. “It’s a service to our communities out there and they depend on us every day.”
White also stressed that the changes could lead to older residents losing access to mail-in voting, as the alternative would be risking their lives going to a polling place during the pandemic.
“Our elderly need that opportunity to vote,” she said. “And just because you’re in a nursing home, that doesn’t mean you can’t vote.”
Attorney General William Tong said in a statement that the basis for Connecticut’s lawsuit includes the denial of overtime and the prioritization of packages over letters and ballots, as well as the loss of 18 high-speed sorting machines across the state, which “forces workers to sort by hand.”
“We will ask the court to block these destructive new policies and fully and immediately restore the postal service, so that Americans can cast their ballots with confidence this November and know their votes will be counted,” Tong’s statement reads.
In Hartford, several dismantled sorting machines are sitting in the parking lot at the postal facility on Weston Street. Joan Levy, president of the Greater Connecticut APWU and director of the State Postal Workers Union, said that two pieces of processing machinery have been dismantled in Wallingford, too.
This raises concerns over how the impending surge of mail-in ballots will be sorted efficiently, since DeJoy told Congress there is “no intention” to restore removed machines.
Levy added that there now are “a lot of delays on the workroom floor” across facilities because workers are told to set aside late-arrival mail.
“Our mission was always every piece, every day. And now if mail doesn’t get there by a certain time, they are told to hold the mail and not to sort it until after the carriers go to the roads,” Levy said.
Additionally, with COVID-19 shrinking staff, the gutting of overtime and high-speed sorting machinery causes even further delay, Levy explained.
“For the Postmaster General to give a directive that they want to curtail or eliminate overtime, this is not the time to do it because with COVID, we’re down with staffing as it is,” she said.
Like Levy and White, Polley wishes that the cuts will be voided, as the consequences fall both on USPS workers and customers.
“I hope some good sense will prevail in terms of looking at this as something that the entire population needs and not look at it simply in terms of dollars and cents, which is kind of the situation at the moment,” Polley said.
He also urged residents statewide to appeal to their elected leaders and ask for further support for the USPS and its workers.
“We hope the public will understand that we’re trying to correct these things, but it will help if they get pressure on their congressmen [and] city officials to stand with us to get the mail delivered every day,” he said.