Lawmakers Say They’ll Keep the Heat On for Quick Mail Delivery

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

Maryland lawmakers said they will continue pressuring U.S. Postal Service management to make sure mail delivery is not slowed before and after the Nov. 3 election.

U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) told Maryland Matters that he believes pressure from Democratic lawmakers and outraged residents led Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to postpone plans for changes that have already delayed mail delivery.

Van Hollen called it a good example of how public outcry can lead to meaningful change.

“They agreed, under pressure, to stop making the changes that were disrupting mail delivery,” Van Hollen said. “That’s the good news. And that was a direct result of the pressure that was brought to bear.”

DeJoy came under fire early this month for a slew of changes at the Postal Service, which reportedly included slashing overtime and cutting back on extra trips.

State and federal lawmakers said delays in mail delivery were part of a deliberate attempt by President Trump to sabotage the November elections — which are expected to include a record number of mail-in ballots.

DeJoy, a wealthy businessman and campaign donor to Trump, said he would postpone any “longstanding operational initiatives” until after the election. He said those initiatives predated his arrival at the Postal Service.

“To avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail, I am suspending these initiatives until after the election is concluded,” DeJoy said in an Aug. 18 statement.

Van Hollen noted that DeJoy currently has no plans to reinstall sorting machines that were removed in Maryland and across the United States.

DeJoy’s apparent reversal came after nationwide backlash over delayed mail.

At an Aug. 17 news conference in Baltimore, Van Hollen, U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) and Maryland Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives blasted Trump and DeJoy for what they described as a deliberate effort to hamper mail-in voting.

Policy changes at the Postal Service came amid repeated attacks on mail-in voting from Trump, who has claimed the practice leads to fraud. In reality, the rate of fraud in mail-in elections is miniscule.

Roughly 10% of the Postal Service’s sorting machines, which help workers handle large volumes of mail, were set to be decommissioned between June and September, according to Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh’s ongoing lawsuit against DeJoy.

A total of 671 sorting machines, including four from Baltimore and two from the incoming mail facility in Linthicum Heights, were set to be decommissioned.

Frosh’s lawsuit against DeJoy, which seeks to prohibit the operational changes, is going forward, his spokeswoman Raquel Coombs confirmed, despite the postmaster general’s statement that he would pause the changes until after the national election.

“This is an issue that hits people in a very real way, especially people who depend on the Postal Service to deliver essential medicine,” Van Hollen said. “The pressure is on. We’re going to keep pushing DeJoy to reverse the measures he’s taken. Of course, this is also very important within the context of an election that we’ll see an unprecedented amount of ballots delivered by mail, so we’re going to remain vigilant.”

House Democrats on Saturday passed a $25 billion bill to fund the Postal Service, although that measure is unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled Senate. Van Hollen said he and his fellow Democrats urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to take up the bill, but said McConnell has resisted so far.

Del. Brooke E. Lierman (D-Baltimore City) said she received an onslaught of messages from constituents about mail delays in late July and early August, but is getting fewer messages now. Lierman said her main focus has been educating Marylanders about how to vote by mail as the Postal Service woes unfold.

She said there’s been a “concerted effort” by the Republican Party and Trump administration to stir fears about vote-by-mail.

“I do everything I can to push back against that message, and to make sure that people understand that elections are administered at the local level,” Lierman said. “These are our friends and neighbors, who are going to be election judges, who are counting the ballots.”

Maryland House Democrats have organized an effort to get constituents to vote by mail despite the slowdowns at the Postal Service, arguing that waiting in long lines in November could expose voters to COVID-19.