Both Sen. Bernie Sanders and former President Barack Obama on Friday raised alarm over President Donald Trump's open attempt to sabotage the U.S. Postal Service by refusing to provide emergency funding in what critics call an effort to hamper the general election—in which millions of Americans are expected to vote by mail.
In an email to supporters, Sanders denounced Trump's "outrageous" Thursday statement, in which the president dismissed Democratic leaders' demand for $3.5 billion in election assistance for states and $25 billion for the USPS in order to cope with major delivery delays. Trump told reporters that as long as the Postal Service isn't given emergency funding, universal mail-in voting—which the president has claimed would be a "rigged" system favoring Democrats—can't happen.
"He told the American people that he was going to defund and destroy the United States Postal Service so that, during this pandemic, they cannot have the opportunity to vote for president and in other important races," wrote Sanders. "In other words, he is forcing people to make a choice between getting sick and even dying, or casting a ballot."
"Elections should be about candidates making the best case they can to their constituents and letting the voters decide," the Vermont independent senator added. "What elections should not be about in a democratic society is winning because your opponents are prevented from voting. And that is exactly what Trump is doing right now."
We will not let Trump sabotage our Postal Service or destroy our democracy.
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) August 13, 2020
Sanders' criticism was echoed by Obama, who called Trump's explicit attempt to discourage participation in the election "unheard of."
"What we've never seen before is a president say, 'I'm going to try to actively kneecap the Postal Service to [discourage] voting and I will be explicit about the reason I'm doing it,'" said the former president. "My question is what are Republicans doing where you are so scared of people voting that you are now willing to undermine what is part of the basic infrastructure of American life?"
The two leaders' statements came amid news that 46 states and Washington, D.C. recently received letters from USPS general counsel and executive vice president Thomas J. Marshall, warning that tens of millions of Americans could be effectively disenfranchised in the November election because the Postal Service can't guarantee mail-in ballots will be delivered in time to be counted.
Oregon, Rhode Island, New Mexico, and Nevada are the only states that haven't received warnings from the USPS; seven states were told that a limited number of voters could have their ballots cast aside due to mail delays, while 186 million voters could be affected by delays in the rest of the states.
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"It's completely outrageous that the U.S. Postal Service is in this position," Vanita Gupta, president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, told The Washington Post, accusing Trump of weaponizing "the U.S. Postal Service for the president's electoral purposes."
Marshall's warning was due to concerns that arose even before the president named Louis DeJoy, a top Trump donor, postmaster general earlier this year. DeJoy has been condemned by voting rights advocates and Democrats for ordering drastic cuts of overtime and spending by the USPS, delaying delivery times by as much as a week. The Postal Service is also currently decommissioning 10% of its mail-sorting machines, which can sort 21.4 million pieces of paper mail per hour and allow carriers to focus on delivering mail promptly.
Before DeJoy's actions sparked outrage and fears of severe mail delays when millions of Americans cast their votes from home to avoid spreading Covid-19, Marshall became concerned that the Postal Service does not currently have the capacity to help facilitate the election, with 10 times the usual volume of mail-in ballots in November. The battleground states of Pennsylvania, Florida, and Michigan were all identified as states whose tight deadlines for requesting, mailing, or counting ballots would not allow the over-strained post office to deliver all ballots in time to be tallied.
Election officials in Pennsylvania asked the state Supreme Court on Thursday to extend its ballot-counting deadline by three days to give voters time to mail in their votes.
With DeJoy's actions putting further strain on mail carriers, University of Texas law professor Steve Vladeck called Trump's open sabotage of the Postal Service "as serious a threat to our democracy as anything any President has ever done."
"I'm not overreacting; this is a five-alarm fire," he added. "And Republicans who aren't vigorously pushing back are complicit."
Sanders called on his supporters to sign a petition demanding that Congress provide funding to the USPS to support vote-by-mail in November.
"Donald Trump is moving our country in an authoritarian direction and is attempting to dismantle the foundations of our democracy," wrote the senator. "Democracy must be saved. Trump must be defeated."