Viewpoint: Trump cripples USPS to sabotage mail-in-vote

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Karen Rubin, Columnist

President Trump thinks that if he describes the high crimes and misdemeanors out loud and commits them in the open, no one will hold him accountable for the wrongdoings. And so far, that has really worked for him, with Republicans refusing to make him responsible, saying it is up to the voters (wink, wink).

Which brings us now to the US Postal Service. Trump said out loud that he will cripple, even shut down the US Postal Service in order to prevent election ballots from being delivered and posted in time in order to make universal mail-in-voting impossible (as an option on top of in-person) to mitigate against the public health threat of the coronavirus.

Doesn’t it strike anyone odd that three months before Election Day, the post office informed 46 states not to expect ballots to be received in a timely way? You would think that management that cared would instead work out procedures to insure ballots would be expeditiously delivered. But without notice, explanation or rule-making, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a mega-donor to Trump and the Republicans with no actual postal experience, ordered 671 sorting machines removed, each one costing $1 million, each one capable of processing 30,000 pieces of mail each hour.

It has long been a goal of Republicans to privatize the postal service – making it a cash cow for investors as Internet providers have become.  And to make that happen in 2006, the Republicans required the USPS to pre-fund 75 years of pension – something no other agency or even company has had to do (yet when private companies go bankrupt, taxpayers pick up the tab for pensions). The post office, funded entirely by revenues (not taxes) and enjoying 91 percent approval from the public, is now $69 billion in the red. Trump’s aversion to the USPS was magnified because of his grudge against Jeff Bezos (who owns the Washington Post) and Amazon (the source of Bezos’ wealth and power).

But the USPS was founded as one of the earliest institutions in the nation by Ben Franklin  as essential to uniting the former colonies as well as promoting citizenship and commerce, and even enshrined it in the Constitution. It was designed as a “service,” not a for-profit “business.” It receives no taxpayer funding (until COVID) but is capped by Congress in what it can charge and what it can do. It costs just 55 cents to mail a letter from New York to Hawaii; the minimum cost for FedEx is $25.

High proportions of seniors and 80 percent of veterans depend on the mail to deliver life-saving prescription medications, Social Security and pension checks, and pay credit card bills, and especially now with the pandemic, to get deliveries of mail order.

DeJoy proves to be the 2020 version of Wally O’Dell, the CEO of Diebold voting machines, who in 2004 when e-voting predominated, pledged to deliver Ohio, crucial for re-election, to Bush, and miraculously, he did! But in 2020, with the coronavirus pandemic making in-person voting so risky, 50 percent of the 165 million votes cast may well be by absentee (mail-in) ballot, up from 25 percent in 2016. DeJoy has an extraordinary opportunity to decide which ballots get delivered in a timely way and which just manage to fall off a truck. Trump calculates he only needs to upset a mere who-would-miss-them 23,000 votes in five battleground state to take the Electoral College. As Michelle Obama noted in her DNC speech, in one crucial battleground state in 2016, it only took two votes per precinct to take that state’s electoral votes.

Trump and Dejoy are perpetrating an outright lie that the USPS cannot accommodate that volume of mail. But each day, the USPS handles 181 MILLION pieces of mail (500 million letters a day during Christmas). So suggesting that the mail-in vote cannot be accommodated is intended to discourage people from voting by mail, so they will also be afraid of voting in person.

Here’s a concern: DeJoy may be cowered (all Trump’s corrupt moneybags fold like wet noodles) with the uproar over his criminal behavior to stop removing collection boxes or sorting machines, but that doesn’t stop him from selectively, strategically disrupting mail service in Democratic-leaning neighborhoods. And is he restoring what he already removed?

Among DeJoy’s policies to sabotage the election, he has said that absentee ballots will no longer be given the highest priority of first-class mail, meaning they are set aside like those advertising circulars.

This is at the same time as Trump is trying to use executive orders to ban counting absentee ballots received after Election Day, even if they were postmarked in a timely way. Get it?

What’s at stake, though, isn’t just Trump, a clear-and-present-danger to the nation and global security, once again squeaking a win by stealing the Electoral College (so far my prediction of 42 percent popular vote is holding up).  It’s also Moscow Mitch McConnell winning his election and keeping the Senate majority, possibly retaking control of the House, taking over more state legislators in time to double-down on gerrymandering that enables Republicans to control 55 percent of legislatures with only 45 percent of the vote. And then there is the continued crusade to populate the Supreme Court and the entire judiciary with unqualified, ideological right-wing fanatics who will decide how the rest of us live for the next 50 years.

What can be done? The USPS is overseen by a Board of Governors headed by Robert M. Duncan, a former RNC chairman (five out of six have ties to RNC or Trump). But they still have a fiduciary responsibility, so if the postmaster general is literally conspiring and committing crimes (obstructing election, interfering with mail delivery), they should be prosecuted for breaching fiduciary responsibility and abetting criminal activity.

DeJoy should be prosecuted under RICO as part of a criminal conspiracy. As it turns out, DeJoy also has massive conflict-of-interest issues, with some $30 million in investments in USPS competitors.

Who should bring suits? Certainly Trump’s consigliere Attorney General William Barr, who sees his role as protecting Trump, will do nothing to protect the rights of Americans. But the state attorneys general can prosecute DeJoy AND Trump. Indeed, at this writing, some 20 states have filed suit.

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