Postal Service Just Removing Sorting Machines Before Election, No Big Deal
The Trump administration's war on voting continues, with all sorts of neat developments! In addition to eliminating overtime for postal workers and other operational changes that have significantly slowed mail delivery, Trump's pet Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, pulled a Friday Night Massacre of 23 top US Postal Service executives over the weekend, as well as letting states know they'll need to pay the 55-cent First Class rate for absentee ballot applications and ballots, instead of the 20-cent bulk rate that had been used up until now. Now you know what "freedom isn't free" means — it means nearly tripling the cost of voting by mail, as record numbers of Americans plan to vote by mail due to the pandemic.
In the latest bit of fuckery to emerge, we learned on NPR's Morning Edition that the USPS has been removing mail-sorting machines in certain places. That fun fact was dropped in an interview with Kimberly Karol, a postal clerk in Waterloo, Iowa, and president of the Iowa Postal Workers Union. She brought co-host Noel King up short while discussing how the changes have affected her workers:
Karol: Mail is beginning to pile up in our offices, and we're seeing equipment being removed, so we are beginning to see the impact of those changes.
King: Curious, I hadn't heard about this one. Equipment being removed. What equipment?
Karol: The sorting equipment that we use to process mail for delivery. In Iowa, we are losing machines, and in Waterloo we're losing one of those machines. That also hinders our ability to process mail in the way that we had in the past.
Karol said that DeJoy's management had disrupted what she had seen as a "culture of service, where every piece was to be delivered every day." The changes made that high standard impossible, she said. Most postal workers oppose it, she thinks, and they really want to let the public know what's going on. It's every bit as bad as closing post offices or restricting their hours, but is being put in place in such a way as to escape the public comment required under federal laws for rule-making.
So public, please comment!
Despite the changes, Karol said, she thinks the USPS will be ready to handle mail-in ballots this year, because the agency knows what it's doing. But the moves aren't saving any money, she said; they're just undercutting people's confidence in the Postal Service.
Exactly like Republicans have wanted for forever, so it can be privatized, we added.
We didn't find any additional reporting on the situation in Iowa, but the Spokane Spokesman-Review had its own story Monday on how the USPS fuckery might affect voting in Washington, which has run virtually all its elections by mail since 2005. Secretary of State Kim Wyman warned that the state is preparing for a "very concerning" impact of the announcement about postal rates, noting that up to now, the Postal Service has handled ballots like First Class mail (delivery in two to five days) while counties only paid the bulk-mail rate. If elections mail starts getting processed like coupons from Carl's Jr., that could mean delivery times of three to 10 days. (Also, sounds to us like Wyman is citing delivery times prior to DeJoy's Diversion.) Washington will keep counting ballots as long as they're postmarked by Election Day, but with the new slowdowns in sorting, Crom only knows whether USPS will even bother processing all ballots dropped off on Election Day.
Then there's this, which suggests sorting machines are being pulled out all over the place. The Spokesman-Review obtained a July letter from USPS Seattle district manager Kenn Messenger letting postal union leaders know that because of "low mail volumes," mail originating in three Washington cities, Yakima, Wenatchee and Tacoma, won't be processed in the local post offices anymore. Instead, a letter sent from one address within Tacoma to another local address would be sent to Seattle for sorting, then back to Tacoma for delivery. Mail from the other two cities, in central Washington, would go to Spokane to be sorted. Also too:
A separate document indicates that sorting machines will be removed from Wenatchee on Aug. 15 and from Yakima on Aug. 22.John Michael Wald, president of the American Postal Workers Union Tri-Cities Area Local, told the paper that based on a similar move in 2012 in the "Tri Cities" (Pasco, Kennewick, and Richland), that's certain to slow down the mail.
Wald, whose union represents truck drivers as well as the clerks and technicians who run sorting machines, said that before the consolidation, local mail within the Tri-Cities area would be sorted by machines in Pasco and delivered the next day. When those machines were shut down, a letter sent from Richland to Kennewick had to be trucked to Spokane for sorting, adding at least a day to delivery.
"The impact on the quality of service, the time that it takes, is going to be even further compounded" by the Wenatchee and Yakima closures, he said, "because they're farther from Spokane than we even are."
Gosh, just imagine the efficiency. Oh, wait, you don't have to!
A 2018 report by the USPS inspector general's office found that the nationwide consolidation effort that closed the facilities in Olympia, Everett and Pasco resulted in just 5.6% of its expected cost savings, while productivity – pieces of mail processed per hour – fell by 14%.
"We've far surpassed the point of doing more with less," Wald said. "We're doing less with less."
Washington and Oregon have both been held up as examples of the right way to do voting by mail, and Wyman has been happy to consult with other states on what to do to make mail-in balloting work smoothly during the pandemic, and what to watch out for.
Stands to reason Trump would want to wreck that, too. After all, he says voting by mail is bad and doesn't work, so he'll make that true with every monkey wrench he and DeJoy can find.
[NPR / Spokesman-Review / Seattle Times / Crosscut]
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