Associated Press Q&A: What's happening at the US Postal Service, and why?

The Postal Service is strapped for money and instituting cutbacks, and it's warning states that it can't guarantee all ballots cast by mail for the November election will arrive in time to be counted.

Posted: Aug 17, 2020 9:47 AM

The U.S. Postal Service is warning states it cannot guarantee that all ballots cast by mail for the Nov. 3 election will arrive in time to be counted, even if ballots are mailed by state deadlines. That's raising the possibility that millions of voters could be disenfranchised.

It's the latest chaotic and confusing development involving the agency, which has found itself in the middle of a high-stakes election year debate over who gets to vote in America, and how. Those questions are particularly potent in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, which has led many Americans to consider voting by mail instead of heading to in-person polling places.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends mail ballots as a way to vote without risking exposure to the virus at the polls. But President Donald Trump has baselessly excoriated mail ballots as fraudulent, worried that an increase could cost him the election. Democrats have been more likely than Republicans to vote by mail in primary contests held so far this year.

Some questions and answers about what's going on with the post office and the upcoming election:

WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE POST OFFICE?

The Post Office has lost money for years, though advocates note it’s a government service rather than a profit-maximizing business.

In June, Louis DeJoy, a Republican donor and logistics company executive, took over as the new postmaster general and Trump tasked him with trying to make the Postal Service more profitable. Doing so would also squeeze businesses such as Amazon. Its chief executive, Jeff Bezos, has come under criticism from Trump because of the coverage the president has received from The Washington Post, which Bezos owns.

DeJoy cut overtime, late delivery trips and other expenses that ensure mail arrives at its destination on time. The result has been a national slowdown of mail.

The Postal Service is hoping for a $10 billion infusion from Congress to continue operating, but talks between Democrats and Republicans over a broad pandemic relief package that could have included that money have broken down.

On Thursday, Trump frankly acknowledged that he’s starving the postal service of that money to make it harder to process an expected surge of mail-in ballots. Trump on Saturday attempted to re-calibrate his position. He said that he supports more funding for the postal service but refuses to capitulate to other parts of the Democrats' relief package — including funding for cash-strapped states.

WHY DOES THIS MATTER IN AN ELECTION YEAR?

Mail-in ballots have exploded in popularity since the pandemic spread in mid-March, at the peak of primary season. Some states have seen the demand for mail voting increase fivefold or more during the primaries. Election officials are bracing for the possibility that half of all voters — or even more — will cast ballots by mail in November.

Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington state have universal mail voting, and California, Nevada and Vermont are starting universal mail voting in November. But the rest have little experience with such a volume of ballots cast through the mail.

Timely mail is key to voting by mail. In states without universal mail-in voting, applications for mail ballots are generally sent out to voters by mail. They're returned, again, by mail. Then the actual ballots are sent to voters by mail, and returned, again, by mail, usually by Election Day.

Late last month, Thomas J. Marshall, the post office's general counsel and executive vice president, sent states a letter warning that many of them have deadlines too tight to meet in this new world of slower mail.

Pennsylvania, for example, allows voters to request a mail ballot by Oct. 27. Marshall warned that voters there should put already completed ballots in the mail by that date to ensure they arrive by Nov. 3.

This has been a potential problem since the Obama administration, when the post office relaxed standards for when mail had to arrive. But it's particularly acute when the volume of mail ballots is expected to explode in states such as Pennsylvania, which only approved an expansion of mail voting late last year. It's also acute when the president has said openly he wants to limit votes by his rivals by keeping them from voting by mail.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

It's unclear. The first question is whether there will be a coronavirus relief bill that could help fund the post office. Republicans and Democrats are far apart on the measure and Congress has gone home for a few weeks.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is calling the chamber back into session this week to address the Postal Service.

A vote is expected Saturday on legislation, the “Delivering for America Act,” that would prohibit any changes in mail delivery or services for 2020. Congress is on summer recess and had not been expected to return until September. The Senate remains away.

If there's no resolution of the coronavirus aid, the matter is sure to come up during negotiations in September to continue to fund the federal government. The government will shut down if Trump doesn't sign a funding bill by Sept. 30.

States can also act to change their mail balloting deadlines. That's what Pennsylvania did this past week, with the state asking a court to move the deadline for receiving mail ballots back to three days after the Nov. 3 vote, provided the ballots were placed in the mail before polls close on Election Day.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and some other Democratic lawmakers are also seeking a review of DeJoy's policy changes. In response to the letter, spokeswoman Agapi Doulaveris of the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General said the office is "conducting a body of work to address the concerns raised.” She declined to elaborate.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 681613

Reported Deaths: 8076
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1403921855
Ramsey58542944
Dakota52093497
Anoka48037479
Washington30637309
Stearns24839240
St. Louis20269335
Scott19626145
Wright18499163
Olmsted15792110
Sherburne13522100
Carver1206952
Clay915295
Rice9104120
Blue Earth866347
Crow Wing7797102
Kandiyohi744188
Chisago711658
Otter Tail666691
Benton6439101
Mower558038
Winona554452
Goodhue550080
Douglas535484
Itasca516671
Beltrami504672
McLeod501463
Steele500921
Isanti490170
Morrison467563
Nobles448650
Becker434559
Polk433675
Freeborn429538
Lyon394254
Carlton389559
Nicollet377647
Pine373726
Mille Lacs354360
Brown346443
Cass343035
Le Sueur340829
Todd321734
Meeker304749
Waseca288625
Martin261933
Wabasha24334
Dodge24064
Hubbard232241
Roseau231723
Houston203816
Renville199548
Redwood198242
Fillmore194710
Pennington190221
Wadena185126
Faribault179725
Cottonwood176624
Sibley175810
Chippewa171239
Kanabec164129
Aitkin155038
Watonwan155011
Rock138519
Jackson134712
Pope13058
Yellow Medicine125120
Pipestone125026
Swift117119
Koochiching116519
Murray115110
Stevens112211
Marshall103518
Clearwater101918
Lake91021
Wilkin89614
Lac qui Parle84824
Big Stone6814
Mahnomen6819
Grant6718
Lincoln6524
Norman6509
Kittson53322
Unassigned51593
Red Lake4777
Traverse4215
Lake of the Woods3884
Cook2120

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 432122

Reported Deaths: 6339
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk67341672
Linn25698353
Scott22828261
Black Hawk19121334
Woodbury16940233
Johnson1659690
Dubuque14547218
Pottawattamie13058183
Dallas12746102
Story1187148
Warren685993
Webster6304102
Cerro Gordo6212102
Clinton620097
Des Moines594482
Muscatine5781108
Unassigned57410
Marshall564280
Sioux542775
Jasper516575
Lee511078
Wapello4993128
Buena Vista472942
Marion449083
Plymouth434083
Henry339940
Jones331158
Bremer325365
Crawford321644
Carroll317053
Washington315754
Benton312656
Boone308736
Mahaska275453
Dickinson270846
Kossuth251471
Jackson246044
Clay245729
Tama238273
Delaware234643
Buchanan233938
Hardin230847
Page221624
Cedar220525
Fayette220345
Wright217641
Winneshiek215937
Hamilton211752
Harrison198875
Clayton194458
Madison193820
Butler188836
Floyd187742
Mills185224
Poweshiek181036
Cherokee179440
Iowa176425
Allamakee176252
Lyon174441
Jefferson169138
Calhoun168313
Hancock167335
Winnebago164231
Grundy158835
Cass155556
Louisa154949
Shelby151739
Appanoose151249
Emmet149541
Franklin148524
Humboldt147226
Sac144722
Union144237
Mitchell141643
Guthrie138132
Chickasaw137518
Palo Alto131124
Clarke125024
Montgomery122239
Keokuk116232
Howard115622
Monroe114033
Ida107538
Davis103125
Pocahontas99023
Greene98012
Adair95334
Monona94733
Lucas94523
Worth9268
Osceola83717
Decatur74510
Fremont74111
Taylor72412
Van Buren70919
Wayne65123
Ringgold62226
Audubon58414
Adams3914
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