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COVID-19 in Maryland Government & Politics

Md. Democrats, Union Leaders Say Slower Mail Delivery Is Deliberate

U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, at microphone, and other Democratic leaders at a news conference on the U.S. Postal Service Aug. 17 in Baltimore. With him (left to right): Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin and U.S. Rep. John P. Sarbanes. Photo by Bennett Leckrone

Democratic members of Maryland’s congressional delegation say recent slowdowns in mail delivery across the United States aren’t just a result of recent policy changes – but a deliberate effort by President Trump to hinder the November election.

In a Monday afternoon news conference outside of the U.S. Postal Service hub in Baltimore, U.S. Sens. Benjamin L. Cardin and Chris Van Hollen and Democratic members of the state’s U.S. House delegation slammed Trump over reports that the USPS is scaling back operations all over the country, and demanded an investigation.

The news conference came amid nationwide concern over recent policy changes by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a wealthy businessman with no previous Postal Service experience. DeJoy, a major campaign donor to Trump, was appointed to lead the Postal Service in May.

“They’re trying to make it harder for people to vote,” Cardin said. “That’s unconscionable in a democracy.”

Cardin and Van Hollen were joined by U.S. Reps. John P. Sarbanes and Kweisi Mfume, as well as Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City). The Democratic lawmakers warned that Trump’s attacks on mail-in voting don’t just hamper trust in elections, but could also put Marylanders who head to the polls at risk. Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young (D) also attended the news conference.

The lawmakers said they weren’t aware of delays in mail delivery until their constituents began contacting them weeks ago.

Van Hollen said he wants the Senate to reconvene and investigate DeJoy’s leadership. On Sunday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) recalled the United States House of Representatives from its summer recess to try to block some of DeJoy’s policy changes at the Postal Service. The House is expected to convene on Saturday.

DeJoy has reportedly instituted a slew of cost-cutting measures in his short time at the Postal Service, including slashing overtime, cutting hours of operation and removing mail-sorting machines.

Courtney Jenkins, the legislative director of Baltimore’s American Postal Workers Union, said those changes have hampered postal workers’ ability to deliver mail on time. Jenkins said mail delays weren’t a problem at the onset of the pandemic, and have developed as a result of DeJoy’s policy changes.

“You don’t pivot in the middle of a pandemic,” Jenkins said. “You don’t attack democracy in the middle of a pandemic. People are relying on the Postal Service to deliver.”

Mfume said DeJoy’s actions are hurting seniors and veterans who are relying on postal workers to deliver their medicine, and alleged that Trump is trying to deliberately undermine Americans’ overwhelming trust in the Postal Service. He said House Democrats sent a letter to DeJoy for information on his policy changes, but haven’t received a response – and argued that the postmaster general should step down.

“Mr. DeJoy, do us all a favor,” Mfume said. “Even before the hearings, submit your letter of resignation. Ride off into the sunset and restore the decency and the fabric of the United State Postal Service.”

Prior to appointing DeJoy, Trump repeatedly criticized the Postal Service for losing money. The independent agency posted billions in losses last year, but Van Hollen and Mfume emphasized that the Postal Service is a public service and should not to be run like a private sector business.

“You are the great impediment to the decent and working fabric of our society we call the post office,” Mfume said, addressing DeJoy. “Don’t tell me or others that you’re just trying to make the post office make money. The post office is not a business, it is a service. It is a service to Americans that we must always protect.”

Ferguson, who advocated for mail-in ballots in the upcoming election, renewed criticism of Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s decision to require Marylanders to apply for ballots instead of automatically receiving them in the mail.

Hogan previously ordered a more traditional election for November, fretting over errors in Maryland’s largely vote-by-mail June 2 primary, including late or undeliverable ballots. Ferguson warned that requiring ballot applications won’t just put a squeeze on local boards of elections, but postal workers as well.

“It seemed obvious to almost everyone to mail a ballot … and instead we had an administration that chose ‘let’s flood the mail with applications and make it one step harder for people to mail-in their vote,’” Ferguson said.

The Postal Service recently warned Maryland and 45 other states that delayed mail-in ballots could lead to unprecedented voter disenfranchisement, although The Washington Post reported that those warnings were drafted before DeJoy’s tenure began.

Maryland’s deadline to request mail-in ballots was Oct 27, or Oct. 30 for emailed ballots, but officials moved those dates back to Oct. 20 at an early August meeting. Deputy Elections Director Nikki Charlson said that change was partially due to the warning from the Postal Service, but also aimed toward helping local boards of elections process applications and ballots.

While she said the Postal Service is in “great trouble,” Sherry McKnight, the president of Baltimore’s American Postal Workers Union, urged Marylanders not to lose the faith in postal workers.

“Your mail will be delivered, it will be on time, it will be process-efficient, and you will get your vote counted,” McKnight said.

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Md. Democrats, Union Leaders Say Slower Mail Delivery Is Deliberate