This piece was updated on Aug. 19 at 5:30 p.m. to reflect the suspension of the policies causing delays.
Nikki Bracy, a 31-year-old who works in advertising in Baltimore, isn’t surprised that the U.S. Postal Service is in the news.
As the fiancee of a postal worker, Bracy has seen, up close, the issues facing the Postal Service since the beginning of the pandemic — from dwindling funds to increased risks for workers. After President Trump appointed Louis DeJoy, a major Republican donor, to the role of postmaster general in June, the problems seemed even more acute.
Bracy had also planned to vote by mail — via USPS — this election cycle. So it was worrying when her fiance recently started hearing that other postal workers were being told to stop working overtime and that mail-sorting machines had been removed from various plants, she says. (On Tuesday, DeJoy suspended actions the Postal Service was undertaking, including removing mail sorting machines and limiting overtime, that had been blamed for exacerbating delays.)
It wasn’t until last week that the issue started gaining widespread attention. That came after the USPS warned 46 states and Washington, D.C., that their voters could be disenfranchised because of delayed mail-in ballots. Photos also started circulating of USPS collection boxes being removed in Oregon, Montana and elsewhere — the agency maintained this was routine, but it also said it would suspend the practice ahead of the election. On Thursday, Trump once again made clear his opposition to increased USPS funding; citing unfounded claims of voter fraud, he said he wants to restrict how many Americans can vote by mail.
Months ahead of an election in which a record number of Americans will likely vote by mail, Bracy views these changes as “an attack on democracy.”
Experts say that USPS backlogs could have serious consequences for the election come Nov. 3. As the country deals with an increase in mail-in and absentee voting, delayed mail and potential changes to in-person locations, the stakes may be critical in swing states.
As The Washington Post reports, at least 77 percent of American voters can cast ballots by mail in the fall. Given that many voters will not have access to mail-in ballots, safe, in-person options are still necessary, according to Marcia Johnson-Blanco, co-director of the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. This may be particularly crucial for communities of color: Black voters have historically distrusted mail ballots, for example, and Native voters who have nontraditional addresses may not be able to receive them. People with disabilities or who need language assistance may also have an easier time voting in person.
“Overall, there must be safe and secure options to voting in November,” Johnson-Blanco says. “We can’t depend on just one method.”
Looking toward November, Bracy, a Black woman, says it’s top of mind that Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) has the opportunity to become the first Black and Asian American female vice president — and that communities of color stand to be most negatively affected by the pandemic.
“Listen, this election is probably one of the most important elections any of us will face in our lifetime,” she says. “This is the year for us to turn out in droves.”
A couple of weeks ago, Leah Moody, a 44-year-old living in Conroe, Texas, started reading on social media that postal workers were being ordered to “slow down the mail.” Over the weekend, she saw the photos of the blue USPS boxes being rounded up. “I was like, no way, come on, on way,” she says. “But it’s happening right in front of our eyes.”
For Moody, a Democrat, any chance that mail-in voting could be delayed is too big a risk to take. That’s why she plans to cast her ballot during early in-person voting. Although her conservative county is likely to go red — Trump won 74 percent of the vote there in 2016 — Moody wants to ensure her voice is heard.
On July 14, Moody voted in person in Texas’s primary runoff election. She says she wore gloves and a mask and felt safe. She’s looking forward to casting her ballot in November via early in-person voting, she says; in her small town, it’s usually a quick process.
According to election experts, early voting is one of the best ways to make sure your vote is counted — whether that be in person or via mail. Making sure you are registered to vote is another important step, as the deadline to register could come almost a month before the Nov. 3 election. Mail-in voters can also work around Postal Service delays by using a first-class stamp on their ballots, or by dropping their ballot at a secure drop box or at their local elections office.
Constunce Brantley first voted in 2016, when she was a first-year student at Texas State University. She expected Hillary Clinton to make history as the country’s first female president. As she watched the results roll in from her dorm room, her friends’ text messages were simultaneously popping up on her phone — everyone was in disbelief. “It was one of the hardest nights of my college career,” says Brantley, who’s 22 and living in Austin.
Four years later, Brantley is newly graduated and ready to vote again. She is planning to cast a mail-in ballot, but says she wants to do more research as news comes out about the USPS. Brantley’s also making sure her friends are informed about their various options.
“It’s a basic liberty you’re given as your birthright, so I think everyone as a citizen should do it.”
Bracy, the Baltimore voter, still plans to vote by mail, especially because she has underlying health conditions that make in-person voting riskier during a pandemic. She says she’s making sure to request her ballot early and to “return it immediately.”
“The thing to just really remember is that the Postal Service is a public service,” she says. “We all have a right to send and receive post.”