Postal workers load packages in their mail delivery vehicles at the Panorama city post office on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020 in the…
Postal workers load packages in their mail delivery vehicles at the Panorama city post office on Aug. 20, 2020 in the Panorama City section of Los Angeles.

WASHINGTON - With many Americans concerned about casting their ballot in public places during the coronavirus pandemic, mail-in voting is expected to surge dramatically in coming weeks in the runup to the Nov. 3 general election.

Congressional Democrats, however, say recent changes at the United States Postal Service (USPS) could prevent those mail-in ballots from being counted in time and suspect a deliberate attempt to suppress votes. Here’s a look at how the U.S. Congress is reacting to a controversy that has taken center stage in the national political discussion in recent weeks:

Why is the U.S. House of Representatives holding an emergency vote for the postal service?

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called a rare emergency session of the chamber for this Saturday, bringing members back from an August break in their home districts.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Aug. 13, 2020.

The House will vote on a bill providing $25 billion in funding, intended to bolster the postal service’s operations and its ability to cope with a huge increase in voting by mail.

The USPS is an independent agency of the U.S. government executive branch that delivers nearly 150 billion pieces of mail annually. In recent years, the postal service has faced revenue losses and a decline in volume, due in part to the rise in online communications.

Why is this an emergency now?

Congressional Democrats are concerned mail-in ballots may not be counted in time due to recent changes at the USPS instituted by Louis DeJoy, the postmaster general who assumed the position in June.

FILE - U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, left, is escorted to a meeting in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Aug. 5, 2020.

DeJoy – who is a Republican fundraiser and donor to the Trump campaign – instituted measures intended to reduce costs. These included removing mail processing facilities and the blue collection boxes in public places as well as cutting overtime pay for employees and changing operating hours for post offices.

President Donald Trump tweeted support for the move Monday, writing, “The US Post Office (System) has been failing for many decades. We simply want to MAKE THE POST OFFICE GREAT AGAIN, while at the same time saving billions of dollars a year for American taxpayers. Dems don’t have a clue.”

President Trump has often criticized mail-in voting, tweeting the unsupported assertion that increased use of mail-in ballots in November would result in fraud and a “rigged” election. He told Fox Business Network in an interview last week he did not want to make a funding deal with Democrats that would send more money to the USPS to bolster mail handling.

“If we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money,” Trump told Fox Business. “That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting. They just can’t have it.”

The changes at the USPS led to reported delays in processing the mail just when the volume of mail-in ballots is expected to reach unprecedented levels. According to a New York Times analysis, about three-quarters of Americans will be eligible to vote by mail in the presidential election, leading to an estimated 80 million mail-in votes.

Speaker Pelosi said in a statement this week, “During a pandemic, the Postal Service is Election Central. No one should be forced to choose between their health and their vote.”

How have the states responded?

At least 20 states with Democratic attorneys general are suing the USPS over mail delays and protests sprang up around the country in response to the changes.

Congressional Democrats are alleging the changes were an effort on the part of the Trump administration to suppress the votes of many who are likely to vote for the Democrats.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., questions a witness on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 16, 2019.

“Anybody knows it is unlawful to interfere with the post office in order to try to cook and fix and disrupt a United States election — which this postmaster general was doing on the orders of Donald Trump, who told the country on national TV and on Twitter that he’s interfering with the post office because he doesn’t like the election,” Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen said at an event in support of the USPS this week.

How did the postmaster general respond?

DeJoy announced this week that “to avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail, I am suspending these initiatives until after the election is concluded."

He added, "The Postal Service is ready today to handle whatever volume of election mail it receives this fall.”

In a letter to state election officials last week, the USPS said, “There is significant risk that, at least in certain circumstances, ballots may be requested in a manner that is consistent with your election rules and returned promptly, and yet not be returned in time to be counted.”

Following the DeJoy announcement, House Republicans said that Democrats’ criticism is manufactured for political gain.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., center, walks up to the podium during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Oct. 31, 2019.

“The truth is that the USPS has been on an unsustainable financial path that predates current leadership,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy noted in a letter to Speaker Pelosi Thursday. McCarthy, along with others in the Republican leadership, said Saturday’s emergency vote was unnecessary due to the fact that the “USPS is solvent through at least August 2021, well beyond the November election.”

Is that the end of the controversy?

In reaction to DeJoy’s announcement Tuesday, Pelosi said it was an “insufficient first step in ending the president’s election sabotage campaign. This pause only halts a limited number of the postmaster’s changes, does not reverse damage already done, and alone is not enough to ensure voters will not be disenfranchised by the president this fall.”

The House is still set to vote on the emergency funding Saturday. Additionally, DeJoy will face questions from lawmakers when he testifies before the Republican-led Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Friday and the Democratic-led House Oversight Committee next Monday.


What Happens Next?

What It Means to Become President-Elect in the US

In the United States, Democrat Joe Biden is being called the president-elect.

President-elect is a descriptive term not an official office. As such, Biden has no power in the government, and he would not until he is inaugurated at noon on January 20, 2021.

American news networks, which track all of the vote counting, determined on November 7 that Biden’s lead had become insurmountable in Pennsylvania, putting him over the 270 electoral votes needed to be president. Within minutes of determining his lead was mathematically assured, they projected him as the winner.

That is why news organizations, including VOA, are calling Biden the "projected winner."

Sometimes, in the case of particularly close elections, when news networks make this call, the other candidate does not concede victory. President Donald Trump has not done so, alleging voter fraud without substantial evidence and vowing to fight on. The president’s position has left Washington lawmakers divided, with Republicans backing a legal inquiry into allegations of vote fraud, even as they celebrate other congressional lawmakers who won their races.

When will the dispute be resolved?

The U.S. election won’t be officially certified for weeks. In the meantime, court challenges and state recounts could occur.

So far, the Trump administration has not provided evidence for any fraud that could overturn the result, but there is still time for more legal challenges.

Once states have certified the vote, pledged electors then cast their votes in the Electoral College in mid-December. Congress then certifies the overall Electoral College result in early January, about two weeks before Inauguration Day.