USPS and vote-by-mail scrutinized during #Election2020
August 21, 2020
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The U.S. Postal Service, normally a low-profile agency, has become a political football during the 2020 presidential election. President Trump has claimed voting by mail is rife with fraud at a time when some states are expanding the practice during the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, alarms have been raised about a number of controversial Postal Service initiatives, including canceling services, restricting overtime and removing mail-sorting machines and collection boxes.
With #SaveTheUSPS trending on social media and nearly two dozen states announcing plans to sue the Postal Service and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, the USPS said this week that it will pause several changes until after the November election. DeJoy is set to appear at a Senate hearing today, followed by an appearance at a House panel on Monday. USC experts weigh in on the controversy.
Can the states handle the increased volume of voting by mail?
“There isn’t widespread evidence that voting by mail is fraudulent. To be clear, this is the first election cycle when we will have people voting by mail in these numbers. States are underfunded and don’t have the apparatus in place to accommodate that, but that is a separate issue than saying the system itself is rife with fraud or any more insecure than voting in person.
“My single biggest concern is the ability of the states to handle the volume of the mail-in ballots that will be received, because they are underfunded. There are issues with the post office and with the delivery of mail, and that suggests there may be problems in November.
“My second concern is the misinformation that may come out between Election Day and when we finally have a winner. Traditionally, we have announced the winner on election night. But because a lot of voting will take place by mail, it is entirely possible that it will be days or weeks before we know who actually won.”
Franita Tolson is vice dean for faculty and academic affairs, and a professor of law at the USC Gould School of Law. She focuses on election law, constitutional law, legal history and employment discrimination. Her election podcast is Free and Fair with Franita and Foley.
In California, voting by mail is embraced by all parties
“Even among his political base in California, President Donald Trump will find few allies in his fight against voting by mail. Historically, there has not been significant partisan disagreement over voting by mail in the Golden State. Republicans, Democrats and independents alike have used it more and more over the decades and are now embracing the option especially strongly in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is one of the few issues in our state that brings the parties together, rather than divides them.
“As counties work with our state’s Secretary of State to administer an election like no other, it will be important to keep in mind that while most voters want to cast a ballot that has been mailed to them, many of those who still prefer to vote in person are among our state’s historically underrepresented populations.
“Making our electorate truly representative requires providing safe voting sites along with the mail ballot option.”
Mindy Romero is a political sociologist and director of the Center for Inclusive Democracy (CID) at the USC Price School of Public Policy. Her research focuses on political behavior and race/ethnicity and seeks to explain patterns of voting and political underrepresentation. These comments are excerpted from a piece written for CalMatters.
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Will postal service changes trigger a backlash?
“We have been using mail voting in America since at least the Civil War, when Union soldiers cast their ballots by mail. Mail voting is now widespread and there is no evidence of fraud. Crippling the U.S. Postal Service to hinder mail-in ballots would delay prescriptions, Social Security checks and veterans’ benefits and trigger a political backlash. It’s a losing tactic designed to depress the vote in the time of COVID.
“But the controversy is just another warning sign of a stormy election season and a fraught battle if the defeated candidate refuses to concede.”
Robert Shrum is the director of the Center for the Political Future at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and a former political strategist and consultant.
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Postal service changes could pose risks to seniors
“I would imagine older adults are reluctant to show up for in-person voting. Given the combination of their risk and what we now know about transmission dynamics, this is perfectly reasonable on their part. Given their right to vote, mail-in or drop-off is our best option to not disenfranchise older voters.
“One thing that occurred to me with the removal of neighborhood mailboxes, including the one in my neighborhood, is that this also effectively removes the opportunity for older adults to get a walk in while running an errand and dropping off mail.”
Jennifer Ailshire is an expert in health and aging in communities. She is an assistant professor at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and an assistant professor of sociology and spatial sciences at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.