U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy assured lawmakers Monday that attempts to reform the beleaguered United States Postal Service (USPS) will not interfere with an anticipated surge in mail-in voting in this year’s presidential election due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“This sacred duty is my number one priority,” DeJoy told the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. “Between now and Election Day, to be clear, we will do everything we can to handle and deliver election mail in a manner consistent with the proven processes and procedures that we have relied upon for years.”
For several years, the USPS has faced revenue losses and a decline in mail volume, due to the rise of online communication.
DeJoy - a Republican fundraiser and donor to the Trump campaign – pushed back against criticism of recent cost-saving measures including the removal of some mail processing facilities and of some mail collection boxes from public places.
He told lawmakers he did not order those changes but was responsible for an order issued last week suspending them until after Election Day to avoid any appearance of impropriety.
“Any further assertions by the media or elected officials is furthering a false narrative to the American people,” the postmaster general said.
But Congressional Democrats say reversing some of the changes, including the removal of collection boxes, will not fully remove the threat to mail-in voting, which is set to begin in the coming weeks.
“These delays are not a myth or conspiracy theory as some of my colleagues have argued. These steep declines did not start in April or May when the coronavirus hit us, but in July when Mr. DeJoy came on board and began making his changes,” House Committee on Oversight and Reform Chairperson Carolyn Maloney said Monday.
According to Maloney, the committee obtained a recently dated internal USPS document showing significant declines in on-time mail delivery beginning shortly after DeJoy took charge of the postal service.
The delays have sparked protests across the United States, as well as widespread condemnation from Congressional Democrats, who allege DeJoy’s actions amount to tampering with the election.
“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 (President) 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 last week.
President Donald Trump has routinely criticized mail-in voting and suggested blocking funding to the USPS to prevent the practice, during an interview with Fox Business earlier this month.
According to The New York Times, up to 80 million Americans could make use of mail-in voting this election cycle, as many voters will be reluctant to stand in long lines in public places during the pandemic.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi scheduled a rare emergency session of the U.S. House Saturday, calling members back from their home districts to pass a $25 billion funding package for the postal service.
One key provision in that measure would ensure mail-in votes are treated as first-class mail, a practice Pelosi says DeJoy told her would not be followed.
In a press conference Saturday, Pelosi said additional funding for the USPS is necessary “because in my conversations with the postmaster general, which were most unsatisfactory, he said he had no intention of restoring the post office boxes that were removed, no intention of restoring the sorting machinery in the Postal Services and other infrastructure very essential to keeping the mail on time.”