Donald Trump is waging an attack against the country’s postal service at a time when voting by mail is America’s safeguard against the coronavirus.
The US President has argued mail-in ballots (postal voting) give rise to electoral fraud, and is standing in the way of a deal on extra funding for the US Postal Service to handle a deluge of mail ballots for the November election.
Mr Trump is no stranger to voting by mail. The Florida elections website reveals absentee ballots were requested for Mr Trump and his wife Melania before the state’s primary elections this week.
Contrary to what the President believes about mail-in ballots being ripe for fraud, a recent analysis by the University of Chicago political scientist Anthony Fowler shows fraud is rare in US voting, let alone mail-in voting.
“Voter fraud is very rare, and the risk of widespread fraud is probably very minimal, even with all-mail elections,” Professor Fowler said.
In an interview with Fox News on Monday, Mr Trump said he was committed to ensuring the postal agency was able to “run efficiently” by supporting more voting booths, early voting and other efforts to expand in-person voting.
Asked whether he would support Americans mailing-in absentee ballots if they specified it was because they were concerned about the coronavirus, Mr Trump said “I totally support that”.
Except, that confused audiences after he reiterated his attacks against mail-in voting.
An absentee ballot is requested by the voter, whereas mail-in voting means an absentee ballot or a form to fill out to request one is automatically sent to every citizen.
By opposing USPS funding, it’s said Mr Trump wants to discourage Americans from casting their ballots through the mail.
From Mr Trump’s perspective “this is really important – for election officials to effectively count them all”, American commentator Chris Cillizza told Forbes.
Democrats have accused Mr Trump of attempting to interfere with the November 3 election, while former President Barack Obama raised concerns that Mr Trump was trying to “actively kneecap” and “starve” the postal service.
“My question is what are Republicans doing where you are so scared of people voting that you are now willing to undermine what is part of the basic infrastructure of American life?” Mr Obama asked in a podcast with his former campaign manager David Plouffe.
Mr Trump is not just denying the US Postal Service crucial funds but according to the Washington Post, has “reassigned or displaced” at least 23 USPS executives.
The service has imposed a hiring freeze on managers and will start requesting early voluntary retirement of older staff, according to an internal memo to employees obtained by the Post.
Critics say the move will hamper the ability of the postal service to continue to function effectively and serve the people.
Recent photos posted online show multiple USPS mailboxes stacked in the back of a ute.
A USPS spokesperson later told Willamette Week it was removing the iconic blue mailboxes from people’s yards ‘‘because of declining mail volume’’.
But that is a ‘‘normal operational procedure’’, according to another spokesperson.
“We still have carriers come to every single home six days a week and they collect any outgoing mail that is available”, they told KOIN 6.
USPS has suffered increasing delays following cost-cutting measures imposed by Mr Trump’s new Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy.
That includes cutting down on overtime for hundreds of thousands of postal workers that any mail that cannot be delivered without overtime will be held for the next day.
“The concern from Democrats is that the President and his allies at the Postal Service could slow down the mail so that ballots from Democratic voters would not be returned in time to be counted,” White House correspondent for the New York Times Michael Shear told the paper.
Mr DeJoy’s downsizing drive has even worried some Republicans amid reports that medical deliveries were being slowed.
On Sunday (Australian time) Mr Trump said Mr DeJoy was a “very talented man” who was trying to streamline the postal service and only wanted to “make it great again”.
However, Mr Trump tried to put some distance between himself and the postal service problems since Mr DeJoy took over, telling reporters, “I don’t know what he’s doing”.
Early that day, protesters gathered outside Mr DeJoy’s Washington apartment to chant, bang pots and wave placards that denounced him as “Postmaster Saboteur”.
According to the Washington Post, 46 states received letters from USPS warning them that a significant number of mail votes might go uncounted if they are returned too late.
In the letters, the postal service’s general counsel Thomas Marshall said some states’ election “deadlines for requesting and casting mail-in ballots are incongruous with the Postal Service’s delivery standards”.
“This mismatch creates a risk that ballots requested near the deadline under state law will not be returned by mail in times to be counted under your laws as we understand them,” he continued.
There are concerns that delays in mail delivery could jeopardise the ballots of tens of millions of American voters.
There is however a small sign of hope.
Mr Trump may budge on USPS funding demands if Democrats accept other proposals, but what they are remain to be said.