Trump’s business buddy ignored Postal Service role in uniting America

Donald Trump wants to make voting more difficult this year, because voters supporting the Democratic Biden-Harris ticket may be less enthusiastic than those backing the Republican Trump-Pence ticket.

If the Democratic voters lack commitment, they might be easily discouraged from casting their ballots by obstacles placed in their path to the polls.

Making it impossible to rely on voting by mail in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis has been the latest GOP ploy to suppress voter turnout, especially by Biden backers. That’s Trump’s theory, but it might also affect some Republican voters.

Last weekend’s Washington-Post/ABC poll shows Biden leading Trump nationally by 53-41 percent of registered voters. But 65 percent of Trump voters said they were “very enthusiastic” about him, while only 48 percent of Biden’s backers supported him that strongly.

Congressional Democrats see federal funding to help mail-in voting as essential in dealing with effects of Covid-19. Most voters across the country have access to it. But Trump understood that cutting postal services could serve him politically. It’s also consistent with minimizing the effect of the virus.

Perhaps Americans owe thanks to Trump and his Postmaster General, whose business zeal ignores the special role of the U.S. Postal Service.  They have reminded us that it unites America.

The USPS carries mail and packages as do FedEx and UPS. Faced with their competition, Congress decided USPS should run like a business, not as a government agency. Now the USPS, under a Trump political appointee, seeks to cut costs and service, which could reduce its ability to compete or to assist voting.

Congress made a mistake. The postal service means much more than mail delivery.

In 1775, even before the Declaration of Independence, the Continental Congress appointed the first postmaster general – Benjamin Franklin. He immediately laid out a postal route from Maine to Georgia. That post road later was turned into U.S. Route One.

The Constitution provides for “Post Offices and Post Roads.” In 1792, President Washington signed the Postal Service Act, creating the Post Office Department, which would later be led by a cabinet officer.

In his First Inaugural Address in 1861, as the South rebelled, President Lincoln, declared: “The mails, unless repelled, will continue to be furnished in all parts of the Union.” Despite the rebellion, he hoped mail service could continue in the South. But the South created its own service.

All of these actions demonstrated that the postal service would be a prime way of binding together the entire country. Private companies might come and go, but there would always be the government’s service.

Its postmark became legally significant. It is used to recognize an official action, like filing an income tax return. Nothing else could do that. Given its special status, its operations are neutral and nonpartisan. That is what is now threatened.

Voter beware. The USPS promises to delay changes until after the elections, but there could be problems. Will sorting machines, already removed, be brought back? Will postal workers be allowed enough overtime to quickly process all mail? Will mail be “lost?”

Other obstacles to voting are falling. Some states, like Arizona and Pennsylvania have eliminated political gerrymandering. The Democrats have fought successfully against some artificial voting requirements being imposed, though much remains to be done. And party lawyers are now an inevitable part of vote tabulation.

What else can be done to counter efforts to undermine popular democracy in order to “win” an election?

Voting in person is best. Either election officials or political parties should schedule voters to prevent long waiting times. That could avoid congestion, a Covid-19 threat. Also additional and widely spread voting locations would help.

Tamper-proof ballot boxes, emptied frequently by election officials, could be widely distributed, making in-person voting possible without contact with other people. As with mailboxes, the pickup times could be listed on the ballot box, so that voters could cast their ballot and see it picked up.

Mail-in voting will be popular. Early voting is a good way to avoid possible postal delays. One or both parties should designate an artificially early voting deadline and advertise it heavily.

Mail-in ballot materials could include a toll-free number to call to report having mailed the ballot. Political parties will surely contact voters to check if they have voted by mail.

Avoiding unnecessary exposure to Covid-19 is a good reason for mail-in voting. Alleging voting fraud is a bad reason for opposing it.

There’s no evidence that fraud exists. When challenged on this point, Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff, argued there’s no proof it doesn’t exist. Claiming you have to prove a negative is an act of desperation and does not pass the straight-face test.

There’s only one sure answer. However you do it, vote.

Gordon L. Weil

About Gordon L. Weil

Gordon L. Weil formerly wrote for the Washington Post and other newspapers, served on the U.S. Senate and EU staffs, headed Maine state agencies and was a Harpswell selectman.