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Why the US Postal Service holds key to White House

Around 22.59 million postal votes are stuck somewhere and this could tilt the election in Trump’s favour

K.P. Nayar Published 02.11.20, 11:36 PM
Official mail-in ballots for US general election.

Official mail-in ballots for US general election. Shutterstock

My favoured “candidate” in the American presidential election is not a candidate in the conventional sense and cannot occupy the White House. The candidate I root for is neither Republican Donald Trump, nor his challenger, Democrat Joe Biden. It is the US Postal Service, colloquially known as USPS or simply as the Post Office.

Remember the third party candidate Ross Perot in 1992, without whose vote share, Bill Clinton could never have become United States of America’s President? In the same way, the Post Office is taking votes away from Biden in the 2020 election and history will be repeated if Trump is re-elected as US President.


Ross Perot, who contested as an independent, took away almost 19 per cent of the total votes, mostly from Republican President George H W Bush, who had to retire to Texas after a single term in office. Democrat Clinton’s victory margin against Bush was just 5.6 per cent in popular votes.

If it were not for Perot, the White House would probably have been retained by Bush, the father of the 43rd President. Clinton would have, instead, gone back to his native Arkansas, perhaps never to recover from the allegations of philandering, which nearly buried him during his campaign against Bush.

Trump has tried to remake the USPS to suit his needs this year. As a result, it will be a critical factor on election day and determine who becomes America’s next Commander-in-Chief.

Anthony Joseph voted by mail first thing in the morning on October 26 so that his local area postman could pick up his ballot envelope in the earliest mailbox clearance that Monday. A week has passed and his ballot paper is yet to reach the office of the Elections Administrator in Williamson County in Texas.

In all the years that Joseph and his family have lived in the Austin-Round Rock-Georgetown area of Texas, it has never taken more than a day for mail from their neighbourhood mailbox to reach any address in Williamson County’s “seat” of Georgetown. Joseph has been calling the Ballot Board every day, but no one there knows the fate of his mail-in vote. Local Ballot Board officials have assured Joseph that they will give him a provisional ballot paper in person if his postal vote does not reach them by election day. But the offer is cold comfort to Joseph and some of his neighbours who are in a similar predicament. As senior citizens, they had all applied for ballots by mail for fear of catching a Covid-19 infection by going into a crowded polling station on voting day.

According to the US Elections Project, the highly acclaimed poll research initiative of the University of Florida, 56.6 million Americans applied to vote by mail in this week’s elections. Of these, only 34 million ballots have so far been returned to election administrators across the US. At the time of writing, 22.59 million votes by mail are outstanding.

It is a fair assumption that the predicament of most of these 22.59 million voters is the same as that of Anthony Joseph. Such an assumption is reasonable because all the 56.6 million postal voters are those Americans who are keen to cast their votes and have taken the trouble to apply for mail ballots. If they applied for postal ballots, most of them would have also taken the trouble of returning their ballot papers to election administrations in time.

Besides, the election machinery of the Democratic Party, fearful of disruptions and disturbances on voting day, has been mobilising their supporters to vote by mail or vote in person earlier than on November 3. Republicans, on the other hand, Trump in particular, has been assailing votes by mail as fraudulent and describing the drive for increased postal voting as a conspiracy by the President’s opponents to steal the election.

According to the US Elections Project, in 19 American states which maintain party-wise voter registration data, the number of Democrats who asked for postal ballots this year is nearly double that of Republicans. So, if 22.59 million ballots are caught up in red tape in post offices on their way to election centres, the majority of those outstanding votes would also be from those who have cast their ballots for Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris.

In 1992, Ross Perot polled 19.7 million votes and cost Bush a second term. In 2020, the 22.59 million missing postal votes may be the single biggest factor deciding whether Trump will be re-elected or whether Biden will be the 46th US President. USPS admitted on Sunday in a court filing in Washington that processing of ballot bulk mail was down in parts of Pennsylvania, a battleground state, to 64 per cent. The normal figure for this work nationwide is 97 per cent. In mid-June, with elections less than five months away and Democrats massively mobilising to get their supporters to vote by mail, Trump appointed someone with no previous USPS experience, but had donated $1.2 million to the President’s campaign, as Postmaster General.

Under the guise of cost-cutting, Louis DeJoy immediately initiated a set of actions which amounted to dismantling the American Post Office system. If a vigilant US Congress had not stepped in and if courts had not intervened, it is possible that by now the USPS would have become comatose and unable to handle voting by mail at all in this election season.

Overwhelmed by e-mails and other new forms of communication, unable to meet competition from smarter, more efficient courier companies, snail mail has been facing an existential crisis for some years in the US. The USPS may be a sick institution, but if the Biden-Harris ticket wins this week, they will have this venerable institution with a 245-year history to thank for.

DeJoy’s appointment may well have made the first US Postmaster General, Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of America, turn in his grave. But if the postal service, which he founded, turns out to be the saviour of the world’s oldest democracy, it will be a classic case of unintended consequences because Franklin would never have imagined that this was to be the destiny of the Post Office.

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