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The Situation With USPS Mailboxes and Sorting Machines, Explained

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  • Major changes at the U.S. Postal Service have increased concerns about both the future of the agency and its ability to collect mail-in ballots in time for the November election.
  • Those changes have included the removal of several drop boxes and sorting machines; however, after much scrutiny this weekend, the USPS said it would stop removing mail boxes until after the election.
  • Similarly, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows has said that “no sorting machines” will be “going offline between now and the election.” It is unclear if his comment was an attempt to deny reports of sorting machines that are already said to have been removed.
  • On Sunday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that she was calling the House back to Washington D.C. to vote on a bill that would reverse the post office’s recent overhauls.

Sorting Machines and Mail Boxes Removed

The United States Postal Service has become a point of political focus in the lead-up to the 2020 elections. Over the last few days, concerns around the USPS have spiked even more following reports that the agency was removing mail-sorting machines and mailboxes from rotation.

According to multiple outlets, a plan outlined by Postmaster Louis DeJoy last month included decommissioning 10% of the postal service’s costly mail sorting machines. In raw numbers, that means decommissioning 671 of those machines, which are scattered across the country.

Widespread reporting of this plan surfaced on Thursday, following an interview with President Donald Trump on Fox News. In that interview, Trump said that he wants to deny funding to the USPS ahead of the elections so that the postal system won’t be able to handle an influx of mail-in ballots in November. 

Notably, that’s been viewed by many as a blatant attempt to suppress mail-in voting, something that Trump has repeatedly claimed will lead to widespread fraud — even though there is no hard evidence to back up this claim. 

Even before these reports, there were already fears that mail-in ballots could arrive at election offices late. For years, the USPS has been stressed. It’s understaffed. It’s not funded by tax dollars. It’s losing money.

As part of a massive overhaul of the agency, DeJoy also instructed it to cut overtime and to send out mail trucks on time even if all the mail for that run hasn’t been sorted yet. 

Recently, the postal service warned 46 states and Washington D.C that it can’t guarantee all mail-in ballots will arrive in time to be counted. If that happens, under the current system of most states, those ballots would be invalid — even if a person mailed their ballot on time. 

Thus, many fear the removal of sorting machines could slow down and jeopardize that process even more. 

But it’s not just sorting machines. Other reports from people online and even government officials appear to show photos of the postal service’s iconic blue mailboxes either being taken away or locked up. 

Alongside both developments, there have been widespread reports of major delays in mail being delivered.

Why Are These Machines Being Removed?

When reports of these units being removed first surfaced, the public did not seem to have a concrete answer as to why this was happening. Reportedly, the USPS had not announced any new policy to local union officials. The agency also didn’t explain its reasoning or say what was going to happen to those machines and mailboxes.

Additionally, it was only learned that DeJoy planned to decommission 671 sorting machines after multiple outlets — such as The Washington Post, NBC, and CNN — obtained internal documents reportedly stating such. 

The fact that sorting machines are being either removed, replaced, or modified is nothing new. That much happens all of the time; however, recent removals appear to be much more widespread than normal practices. 

“Look at it this way,” one USPS employee at a Buffalo, New York, distribution center — which was set to lose six of its 21 machines — told VICE. Your local grocery store was forced to cut 1/3 of its cash-out lines, but management expected the same productivity, quality, and speed for the customer. It’s just never going to happen.”

Still, traditional mail has been declining for years, and many distribution centers are now finding themselves having to sort through less mail than ever before. Because of that, it’s possible the USPS might not need as many of those machines or mailboxes. In fact, once the USPS publicly responded on the matter, that soon became their explanation. 

The Postal Service routinely moves equipment around its network as necessary to match changing mail and package volumes,”  a USPS spokesperson said. “Package volume is up, but mail volume continues to decline. Adapting our processing infrastructure to the current volumes will ensure more efficient, cost effective operations, and better service for our customers.”

Alongside that, on Friday, a USPS official told KSHB in Kansas City that several mail-processing machines in the area had been removed earlier in the summer “for efficiency and lower mail volume” related to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In a similar statement regarding mailboxes, a spokesperson explained that units are removed if they “consistently receive very small amounts of mail for months on end,” saying that having carriers drive to such locations drives up costs. 

Regarding why other mailboxes have been spotted with locks, it appears that this could be a semi-routine way to stop after-hours theft, though it’s still unclear if this is actually the case. It’s also unclear if the practice has become more widespread recently or if this is mainly a case of people now noticing a routine occurrence.

USPS confirmed Friday that it will stop removing mailboxes until after the election. 

Still, it does appear that changes to mailboxes and sorting machines may be — along with other changes — what has caused recent slowdowns and delays in mail delivery.

In a letter to employees, DeJoy reportedly said that the changes are simply “unintended consequences” and that his plan for the agency “will increase our performance for the election and upcoming peak season and maintain the high level of public trust we have earned for dedication and commitment to our customers throughout our history.”

Democrats, Celebs, and Others Criticize Recent Changes with USPS

A lot of people haven’t bought that explanation. Instead, they’ve argued that these changes are likely to hurt mail-in voting.

“We are 80 days out until the next election,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said. “I don’t think there’s any question that this is all related to the upcoming election. People in our community right now ought to begin writing letters and screaming and saying this is a misplaced political move.”

On Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-Ny.) issued a scathing statement that accused Trump of manipulating “the operations of the Post Office to deny eligible voters the ballot in pursuit of his own re-election.”

“The President’s own words confirm: he needs to cheat to win,” the joint statement says.

The idea of Trump needing to “cheat to win” is one that has grown increasingly popular over the last few weeks, with many accusing the president of suppressing mail-in voting efforts in an attempt to win the election. Though statistics do not show any partisan lean, Trump has repeatedly claimed that widespread mail-in voting will secure the White House for Democrats. 

“Trump’s calculated dismantling of USPS proves one thing clearly: He is WELL AWARE that we do not want him as our president,” singer Taylor Swift said Saturday. “He’s chosen to blatantly cheat and put millions of Americans’ lives at risk in an effort to hold on to power.”

“Donald Trump’s ineffective leadership gravely worsened the crisis that we are in and he is now taking advantage of it to subvert and destroy our right to vote and vote safely,” she added. “Request a ballot early. Vote early.” 

Alongside big-name responses, many protested this weekend outside of DeJoy’s house in D.C., as well as outside of his North Carolina mansion. Many held signs reading, “Deliver de Mail, Depose DeJoy.”

Will Trump Approve USPS Funding?

In response to the criticism against him, over the weekend, Trump responded by working to redirect the blame back to Democrats. 

On Friday, Trump backpedalled on his previous statement that he’d block billions of dollars of funding from going to the USPS as part of the next coronavirus relief package. Instead, he said he would approve that funding, but only if Democrats give Republicans what they want.

On Saturday, Trump then continued his attack on the USPS by calling the agency a catastrophe, defending DeJoy, and saying, “Obviously, if you’re going to do these millions of ballots out of nowhere, he’s going to obviously need funding. But the Democrats aren’t willing to provide other things, and therefore, they’re not going to get the funding for that.” 

States Work to Accommodate Mail-in Voting

Even with a stalemate between Trump and Congress, many states have been busy making moves to accommodate for ballots that could reach election officials after November 3rd.

On Thursday, Pennsylvania election officials asked the state’s Supreme Court for permission to count ballots arriving up to three days after election day. 

On Sunday, New Jersey governor Phil Murphy told Fox News that his administration is working to ensure that votes are counted accurately in November. His plan would include expanding access to secure mails sites, as well as expansions to other precautions that aim to deliver mail-in ballots on time. Also included within that would be a measure to extend the deadline in which mail-in votes could be received, as long as they are postmarked by election day. 

It’s also likely that a coalition of states’ will take action regarding concerns surrounding the USPS. Reportedly, the attorneys general for states like Virginia, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Washington, and North Carolina are expected to launch a lawsuit against the Trump Administration later this week.

In other states, however, those rules might not actually be able to be changed. Last month, the Michigan appeals court denied a request that would have allowed mail-in ballots to be counted even after polls close on election day. The state’s Supreme Court later refused to hear that case when the decision was appealed again.

Pelosi Calls House Back Early

On a federal level, Sunday, Pelosi announced she was calling the House of Representatives back from its August recess early to address concerns that the USPS is being used to undermine the November elections.

While up to this point, the debate in Congress has been centered around funding, the House is now expected to vote on a bill that wouldn’t center around that, but rather, organizational issues at the USPS.

In her announcement, Pelosi said that bill would prohibit “the Postal Service from implementing any changes to operations or level of service it had in place on January 1, 2020.”

If there was any room for debate over whether or not Pelosi was specifically targeting DeJoy’s recently outlined overhaul, she didn’t leave that question open-ended. In fact, she even called him a “complicit crony” of Trump in that announcement.

Pelosi also said that DeJoy has pushed “sweeping new operational changes that degrade postal service, delay the mail, and… threaten to deny the ability of eligible Americans to cast their votes through the mail in the upcoming elections in a timely fashion.”

Mark Meadows Interview

Also on Sunday, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told CNN’s Jake Tapper that USPS sorting machines won’t be taken offline between now and Election Day.

However, Meadow’s response in that interview was delivered in such a roundabout way that multiple news outlets have all reported the information differently. In fact, even Tapper didn’t seem to fully understand what Meadows meant.

“There’s no sorting machines that are going offline between now and the election,” Meadows said. “That’s something that my Democrat friends are trying to do to stoke fear out there. That’s not happening.” 

“Are you saying that sorting machines have not been taken offline and removed?” Tapper asked in response. “Are you asserting that? That that did not happen?”

“I’m saying that sorting machines between now and the election will not be taken offline,” Meadows said. “Listen, I had postal under my committee—”

“They’re the ones that have been taken offline in the last couple of months?” Tapper repeated.

Over the course of the next few minutes, Tapper continued to ask Meadows to clarify his statement. 

“That’s not this postmaster general that did that,” Meadows eventually said. “That was the previous postmaster general under Obama.”

“I get that,” Tapper said. “Why were these sorting machines taken offline? Why were they taken offline and why is the postmaster general imposing these new rules?”

“Get your producer to share where exactly those sorting machines were taken offline,” Meadows said. “Let him whisper in your ear, because what I’m telling you is you’re picking up on a narrative that’s not based on facts.” 

Since this interview, many have wondered if Meadows was denying that sorting machines have recently been decommissioned or if he was talking about from that moment specifically until election day. Others wonder if he was trying to blame former President Obama for DeJoy’s new policy.

According to reports, postal workers have said that the USPS started removing those machines back in June. That’s the same month DeJoy was appointed postmaster general. 

It’s also been reported that the postal service inspector general is reviewing DeJoy’s policy changes and potential ethics conflicts. 

DeJoy is slated to appear before the House Oversight Committee on September 17, although there have been concerns that this could come too late and would be ineffective at forcing him to reverse the changes.

Because of that, on Sunday, the Oversight Committee announced that it plans to hold an emergency hearing on mail-in voting next week. It’s now invited DeJoy to testify early.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (The Washington Post) (The New York Times)

Politics

Jan. 6 Committee Prepares Criminal Charges Against Steve Bannon for Ignoring Subpoena

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The move comes after former President Trump told several of his previous aides not to cooperate with the committee’s investigation into the insurrection.


Bannon Refuses to Comply With Subpoena

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection announced Thursday that it is seeking to hold former White House advisor Steve Bannon in criminal contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena.

The decision marks a significant escalation in the panel’s efforts to force officials under former President Donald Trump’s administration to comply with its probe amid Trump’s growing efforts to obstruct the inquiry.

In recent weeks, the former president has launched a number of attempts to block the panel from getting key documents, testimonies, and other evidence requested by the committee that he claims are protected by executive privilege.

Notably, some of those assertions have been shut down. On Friday, President Joe Biden rejected Trump’s effort to withhold documents relating to the insurrection.

Still, Trump has also directed former officials in his administration not to comply with subpoenas or cooperate with the committee. 

That demand came after the panel issued subpoenas ordering depositions from Bannon and three other former officials: Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Scavino, and Pentagon Chief of Staff Kash Patel.

After Trump issued his demand, Bannon’s lawyer announced that he would not obey the subpoena until the panel reached an agreement with Trump or a court ruled on the executive privilege matter.

Many legal experts have questioned whether Bannon, who left the White House in 2017, can claim executive privilege for something that happened when he was not working for the executive.

Panel Intensifies Compliance Efforts

The Thursday decision from the committee is significant because it will likely set up a legal battle and test how much authority the committee can and will exercise in requiring compliance.

It also sets an important precedent for those who have been subpoenaed. While Bannon is the first former official to openly defy the committee, there have been reports that others plan to do the same. 

The panel previously said Patel and Meadows were “engaging” with investigators, but on Thursday, several outlets reported that the two — who were supposed to appear before the body on Thursday and Friday respectively —  are now expected to be given an extension or continuance.

Sources told reporters that Scavino, who was also asked to testify Friday, has had his deposition postponed because service of his subpoena was delayed.

As far as what happens next for Bannon, the committee will vote to adopt the contempt report next week. Once that is complete, the matter will go before the House for a full vote.  

Assuming the Democratic-held House approves the contempt charge, it will then get referred to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia to bring the matter before a grand jury.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (The Washington Post) (Bloomberg)

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Senate Votes To Extend Debt Ceiling Until December

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The move adds another deadline to Dec. 3, which is also when the federal government is set to shut down unless Congress approves new spending.


Debt Ceiling Raised Temporarily

The Senate voted on Thursday to extend the debt ceiling until December, temporarily averting a fiscal catastrophe.

The move, which followed weeks of stalemate due to Republican objections, came after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) partially backed down from his blockade and offered a short-term proposal.

After much whipping of votes, 11 Republicans joined Democrats to break the legislative filibuster and move to final approval of the measure. The bill ultimately passed in a vote of 50-48 without any Republican support.

The legislation will now head to the House, where Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said members would be called back from their current recess for a vote on Tuesday. 

The White House said President Joe Biden would sign the measure, but urged Congress to pass a longer extension.

“We cannot allow partisan politics to hold our economy hostage, and we can’t allow the routine process of paying our bills to turn into a confidence-shaking political showdown every two years or every two months,’’ White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.

Under the current bill, the nation’s borrowing limit will be increased by $480 billion, which the Treasury Department said will cover federal borrowing until around Dec. 3.

The agency had previously warned that it would run out of money by Oct. 18 if Congress failed to act. Such a move would have a chilling impact on the economy, forcing the U.S. to default on its debts and potentially plunging the country into a recession. 

Major Hurdles Remain

While the legislation extending the ceiling will certainly offer temporary relief, it sets up another perilous deadline for the first Friday in December, when government funding is also set to expire if Congress does not approve another spending bill.

Regardless of the new deadline, many of the same hurdles lawmakers faced the first time around remain. 

Democrats are still struggling to hammer out the final details of Biden’s $3.5 trillion spending agenda, which Republicans have strongly opposed.

Notably, Democratic leaders previously said they could pass the bill through budget reconciliation, which would allow them to approve the measure with 50 votes and no Republican support.

Such a move would require all 50 Senators, but intraparty disputes remain over objections brought by Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Az.), who have been stalling the process for months.

Although disagreements over reconciliation are ongoing among Democrats, McConnell has insisted the party use the obscure procedural process to raise the debt limit. Democrats, however, have balked at the idea, arguing that tying the debt ceiling to reconciliation would set a dangerous precedent.

Despite Republican efforts to connect the limit to Biden’s economic agenda, raising the ceiling is not the same as adopting new spending. Rather, the limit is increased to pay off spending that has already been authorized by previous sessions of Congress and past administrations.

In fact, much of the current debt stems from policies passed by Republicans during the Trump administration, including the 2017 tax overhaul. 

As a result, while Democrats have signaled they may make concessions to Manchin and Sinema, they strongly believe that Republicans must join them to increase the debt ceiling to fund projects their party supported. 

It is currently unclear when or how the ongoing stalemate will be resolved, or how either party will overcome their fervent objections.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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California Makes Universal Voting by Mail Permanent

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California is now the eighth state to make universal mail-in ballots permanent after it temporarily adopted the policy for elections held amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 


CA Approves Universal Voting by Mail

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a bill Monday requiring every registered voter in the state to be mailed a ballot at least 29 days before an election, whether they request it or not.

Assembly Bill 37 makes permanent a practice that was temporarily adopted for elections during the COVID-19 pandemic. The law, which officially takes effect in January, also extends the time mail ballots have to arrive at elections offices from three days to seven days after an election. Voters can still choose to cast their vote in person if they prefer.

Supporters of the policy have cheered the move, arguing that proactively sending ballots to registered voters increases turnout.

“Data shows that sending everyone a ballot in the mail provides voters access. And when voters get ballots in the mail, they vote,” the bill’s author, Assemblyman Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto), said during a Senate committee hearing in July.

Meanwhile opponents — mostly Republicans — have long cast doubts about the safety of mail-in voting, despite a lack of evidence to support their claims that it leads to widespread voter fraud. That strategy, however, has also faced notable pushback from some that a lot of Republicans who say it can actually hurt GOP turnout.

Others May Follow

The new legislation probably isn’t too surprising for California, where over 50% of votes cast in general elections have been through mail ballots since 2012, according to The Sacramento Bee. Now, many believe California will be followed by similar legislation from Democrats across the country as more Republican leaders move forward with elections bills that significantly limit voting access.

Newsome signed 10 other measures Monday changing election and campaign procedures, including a bill that would require anyone advocating for or against a candidate to stand farther away from a polling place. Another bill increases penalties for candidates who use campaign funds for personal expenses while a third measure increases reporting requirements for limited liability corporations that engage in campaign activity.

“As states across our country continue to enact undemocratic voter suppression laws, California is increasing voter access, expanding voting options and bolstering elections integrity and transparency,” Newsom said in a statement.

“Last year we took unprecedented steps to ensure all voters had the opportunity to cast a ballot during the pandemic and today we are making those measures permanent after record-breaking participation in the 2020 presidential election.”

The news regarding California came just in time for National Voter Registration day today, giving Americans another reminder to make sure they’re registered in their states. For more information on how to register, visit Vote.gov or any of the other resources linked below.

See what others are saying: (The Hill) (Los Angeles Times) (The Sacramento Bee)

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