Multiple government watchdog groups called for an investigation into newly-installed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy over concerns that his actions since taking over the agency could amount to "voter suppression tactics."
DeJoy, a major Trump and Republican Party donor, has sparked widespread concern after pushing for an "operational pivot" at the cash-strapped agency. Advocates have expressed fears about a mail slowdown, while lawmakers called out DeJoy for reportedly planning service cuts in violation of federal law.
The watchdog groups Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and Common Cause Wisconsin called on Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., the chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which oversees the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), to investigate DeJoy's actions since taking over.
"In his first month on the job, the postmaster general has already taken steps that could undermine efficient voting by mail in November," the groups said in a letter to Johnson. "According to internal USPS memos, DeJoy directed USPS employees that overtime would be limited and that they were prohibited from making late trips in order to ensure timely delivery. DeJoy offered these changes as a way to cut costs, but USPS has acknowledged that they will likely result in delayed mail delivery."
The letter cited a recent report by the USPS Office of Inspector General highlighting problems "related to the timeliness of ballots being mailed to voters" in the Wisconsin primary earlier this year.
The groups called on Johnson to hold oversight hearings in "possible voter suppression tactics" by DeJoy, as well as the deployment of Homeland Security forces to cities like Portland.
"Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf's decision to deploy federal officers to quell political protests raises significant concerns regarding the use of federal resources to repress the rights of Americans over the objections of many local elected officials who do not want federal help," the letter said, adding that the agents "could be used to intimidate voters across the country in the upcoming election."
The letter echoed concerns raised by other groups about DeJoy, who has no experience at the agency and is the former lead fundraiser for the Republican National Convention.
"We have an underfunded state and local election system and a deliberate slowdown in the Postal Service," Wendy Fields, who heads the voting rights coalition the Democracy Initiative, told The New York Times, adding that Trump was "deliberately orchestrating suppression and using the post office as a tool to do it."
Trump has repeatedly sought to sow doubts about mail voting, pushing debunked conspiracy theories alleging links to voter fraud and insisting, without evidence, that it would "lead to the end of our great Republican Party." While lawmakers from both parties have rejected Trump's false claims, even Republican officials are increasingly worried about how the changes at USPS will affect the expected mail-in voting surge.
"Election officials are very concerned, if the post office is reducing service, that we will be able to get ballots to people in time," Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican, told NPR.
David Partenheimer, a USPS spokesman, told The New York Times that post offices have "ample capacity to adjust our nationwide processing and delivery network to meet projected election and political mail volume, including any additional volume that may result as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic."
But the largest postal workers union argued that the changes would undoubtedly reduce service.
"The policies that the new postmaster general is putting into place — they couldn't lead to anything but degradation of service," Mark Diamondstein, the head of the American Postal Workers Union, told the outlet. "Anything that slows down the mail could have a negative impact on everything we do, including vote by mail."
Democrats have been pushing to include a $25 billion cash infusion for the USUS in the next phase of coronavirus relief, which Republicans have rejected. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., argued that the Republicans want to "diminish the capacity of the Postal System to work in a timely fashion."
"We are worried about new management at the Postal Service that is carrying out Trump's avowed opposition to voting by mail," Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., who heads a House subcomittee overseeing the USPS, told The Times. "I don't think that's speculation. I think we are witnessing that in front of our own eyes."
Stacey Abrams, a potential running mate to presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden who faced her own battle with voter suppression when she ran for governor in Georgia, accused Trump of trying to "steal" the election by undermining the USPS.
"We will not be able to effectively count the votes of every eligible American because he's doing his best to undermine our confidence in the process," Abrams, who heads the voting rights group Fair Fight, told CNN, "but worst he's doing his best to actually steal the vote by undermining the postal service."