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Friday, March 1, 2024
March 1, 2024

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In Our View: Postal Service must deliver trust in elections

The Columbian

Problems involving undelivered ballots in King and Pierce counties are disturbing, but not for the reasons MAGA Republicans would have us believe.

As of last week, 124 completed ballots for the Nov. 7 election had been found in disused mailboxes in the Puget Sound area. The ballots were discovered after voters raised concerns that the boxes were not being emptied.

The Washington secretary of state’s office reported: “Because the ballots were found days after Election Day, they were delivered late to the appropriate county elections offices. Under the provisions of state law found in RCW 29A.40.110 (4), elections officials have used the dates provided on the ballot envelopes to help determine ballot validity.”

Secretary of State Steve Hobbs, the state’s top election official, wrote to the U.S. Postal Service: “This deeply unsettling and potentially disenfranchising situation requires immediate attention and improvement so it never happens again to Washington voters. I am very proud of the longstanding partnership between state and local elections officials and the USPS, which gives me full confidence that appropriate steps will be taken.”

As a candidate and as president, Donald Trump often sought to discourage confidence in vote-by-mail elections, and many Republicans have echoed his unfounded concerns.

But the problems in King and Pierce counties go beyond a single election. The public should be outraged that mailboxes in public spaces had not been emptied, and a King County official said, “In their investigation, USPS reported back to us that the box had not been opened since mid-October.”

It is part of the nation’s increasingly complex relationship with the Postal Service.

In 2020, Louis DeJoy was appointed Postmaster General by the USPS Board of Governors under Trump. DeJoy had no Postal Service experience, but has been a Republican Party fundraiser and donated more than $1.5 million to Trump’s election campaigns in 2016 and 2020.

According to financial disclosures when DeJoy was appointed, he and his wife had more than $30 million invested in XPO Logistics, a Postal Service contractor. He also had as much as $300,000 invested in the Postal Service’s major competitor, United Parcel Service. Not only was DeJoy handed a patronage job, he had a vested interest in eliminating the Postal Service in favor of moving mail delivery to the private sector.

That led to questions about DeJoy’s willingness to strengthen a system that has been a part of this nation’s fabric for 248 years. Since Benjamin Franklin was appointed as the first postmaster general, the Postal Service has not only delivered mail but has bound Americans together through an egalitarian service.

To his credit, DeJoy has since lobbied for a series of bipartisan reforms to bolster that system. In April 2022, President Joe Biden signed legislation guaranteeing a union-friendly version of six-day mail service and stabilizing health coverage for the 650,000 USPS employees. DeJoy also is transforming the service to focus more on package deliveries and less on first-class letters — reflecting a changing economic landscape.

But when the U.S. Postal Service fails to empty public mailboxes at election time, after years of claiming that the vote-by-mail system is flawed, it raises questions. Saying “government is broken” and then breaking it to prove the point shamefully undermines public confidence.

Hobbs is correct when he says that such an action should never again happen to Washington voters.