US Postal Service officials push proposal to nearly triple cost of sending mail-in ballots: report

Sen. Elizabeth Warren called the proposal an attempt to “sabotage” the USPS ahead of upcoming elections

By Igor Derysh

Senior News Editor

Published August 10, 2020 2:01PM (EDT)

Donald Trump | mail in ballot (Getty Images/Salon)
Donald Trump | mail in ballot (Getty Images/Salon)

This article has been updated with a statement from the USPS.

A U.S. Postal Service (USPS) panel advanced a proposal that would increase states' postage cost for mail-in ballots from 20 cents to 55 cents per ballot, according to a report from The Capitol Forum.

States pay the 20-cent marketing mail rate when sending mail-in ballots to voters, but the new proposal advanced by the executive leadership team would reportedly require them to pay the standard first-class mail rate of 55 cents.

Voters already pay the standard first-class mail rate to return their ballots, though 17 states cover the cost for voters.

Sources familiar with the proposal told Capitol Forum there was "no clear rationale" for the policy except to bring in additional revenue for the cash-strapped agency, and states pressed for the lower rates to stay in place during discussions about the proposal.

Democrats passed a coronavirus relief bill in May, which would provide $25 billion to help the USPS. The counter proposal from Senate Republicans offered no money for the agency. The Democratic proposal also included $1 trillion for states facing severe revenue shortfalls, which could be further strained by the new USPS proposal. President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans have balked at the funding, and negotiations over the overall package have stalled.

If the proposal moves forward, it would still face a notice and comment period at the Postal Regulatory Commission, as well as possible legal challenges. It is unclear if the USPS could enact the proposal prior to the 2020 election, according to the report. 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., called the proposal an attempt to "sabotage" the USPS ahead of the election. lt comes amid rising concerns that cost-cutting moves by new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a top donor to President Donald Trump and the Republican Party, could impact the expected surge in mail voting in November.

"There are currently no pending changes to the rates and classes of mail impacting ballots," the USPS said in a statement to Salon. "Further, the baseless assertion that we intend to raise prices in advance of the upcoming Presidential election in order to restrict voting by mail is wholly without merit, and frivolous. The Postmaster General and the organization he leads is fully committed to fulfilling our role in the electoral process. If public policy makers choose to utilize the mail as a part of their election system, we will do everything we can to deliver Election Mail in a timely manner consistent with our operational standards."

Democratic leaders said last week that DeJoy "confirmed . . . contrary to prior denials" that the USPS had recently instituted "operational changes" which slowed down mail delivery, potentially affecting the "timely delivery" of paychecks, medicine and mail-in ballots.

"Elections are sacred," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said after meeting with DeJoy last week. "To do cutbacks when ballots — all ballots — have to be counted. We can't say, 'Oh, we'll get 94% of them.' It's insufficient."

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., also wrote to DeJoy with questions about media coverage of planned service cuts for post offices ahead of the November election, which have been bolstered by reports from the postal workers union.

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., the top Democrat on the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, which oversees the USPS, launched an investigation last week to "get to the bottom of any changes that the new postmaster general may be directing that undercut the Postal Service's tradition of effective service."

Shortly after Peters launched the investigation, a memo released on Friday revealed that DeJoy had replaced the top two executives overseeing day-to-day operations at the USPS, The Washington Post first reported. A new organizational chart from the agency shows that 23 executives were "reassigned or displaced."

A source with "deep knowledge" of the leadership team told The Post that the changes have "led to a lot of head scratching," because "we're not sure he put the right players in the right spots."

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., called the changes a "Trojan Horse" and a "deliberate sabotage" of the postal system.

Connolly was one of nine Democrats to call on Postal Service Inspector General Tammy Whitcomb to investigate DeJoy's policies on Friday.

"Given the ongoing concerns about the adverse impacts of Trump Administration policies on the quality and efficiency of the Postal Service, we ask that you conduct an audit of all operational changes put in place by Mr. DeJoy and other Trump Administration officials in 2020," said the letter, whose lead signatories included Warren and Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., the chair of the House Oversight Committee.

The letter also asked the inspector general to look into the finances of DeJoy and wife Aldona Wos, Trump's nominee to be the next ambassador to Canada, because the couple owns between $30 million and $75 million in assets in competitors to the USPS and its contractors.

DeJoy, who agreed to disclose any conflicts of interest after taking over the agency, said in a statement that he has "done what is necessary to ensure that I am and will remain in compliance with those obligations."

"We would welcome the Inspector General to look into the steps we are taking to make the Postal Service more efficient," USPS spokesman David Partenheimer told The Post. "She will find that much of what we are doing is designed to address recommendations that her office has made in recent years."

But an investigation would not be enough for some Democrats, who have called for DeJoy to step down.

"DeJoy's baseless operational changes have already crippled a beloved and essential agency, delaying mail, critical prescription drug shipments for veterans, and seniors and other essential goods," Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., said in a statement. ". . . DeJoy's nefarious collective efforts will suppress millions of mail-in ballots and threaten the voting rights of millions of Americans, setting the stage for breach of our Constitution. It is imperative that we remove him from his post and immediately replace him."

Rep. Alma Adams, D-N.C., joined DeFazio in calling for DeJoy's removal.

"DeJoy continues his unconstitutional sabotage of our Postal Service with complete disregard for the institution's promise of the 'safe and speedy transit of the mail' and the 'prompt delivery of its contents,'" she said. "My friend Maya Angelou used to say, 'When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.' The Postmaster General has shown us on multiple occasions he is working to dismantle a fundamental institution of our democracy. He needs to resign or be removed, now."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's senior news editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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