It’s in the mail

“To avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail, I am suspending these initiatives until after the election is concluded,” said U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy last week in testimony before the U.S. house of representatives. 

When was the last time you sent someone a hand-written letter or mailed a birthday card to your old friends or family members from your Christmas card list? How much of your own mail stream at home is comprised of bills and junk mail? During this pandemic how much shopping have you done online? 

The U.S. Postal Service delivers billions of letters, parcels, and bulk and commercial classes of mail annually to almost every household and commercial business address, as well as millions of post office boxes across the country. Created as a public/private hybrid in 1971, our USPS has a nine-member board which appoints the U.S. postmaster general, who behind president of the United States is currently our second-highest-paid civil servant. The USPS employs roughly 497,000, making it larger than the U.S. Army and the Veterans Administration as the second-largest agency attached to our federal government. 

 Over the past decade, thousands of blue mailboxes across the country have already been removed and retired in an effort that began during the Obama Administration. Most parcels will not fit into those mailboxes and as first-class mail volume has declined, the costs of maintaining and servicing those boxes each day have been static, and yet despite their removal, the USPS still daily moves nearly 500 million items. 

A long-range USPS plan, which long pre-dates LeJoy’s tenure (which began in June 2020 during the pandemic), called for removing roughly 10 percent of aging, larger sorting machines (671 across the country). California was slated for the largest number of machines scheduled for retirement (59), followed by Florida (59), Texas (58), New York (52), and Ohio (34). Only Alaska was spared on the current sorter decommissioning list.

 This number of machines targeted for removal during 2020, if functioning at full capacity, could handle roughly 21.4 million pieces of paper mail per day, again against a total of nearly half a billion pieces of mail being handled each day. What do those sorters do?

• Facer-canceler systems add bar codes to incoming mail to allow for tracking and expedite mail moving from end to end

• Bar code sorters separate labeled mail by ZIP code and then sort into a delivery sequence by route carrier

• Flat sorting and sequencing machines (FSSs) handle larger and out-sized flat mail pieces, but these machines are more prone to jamming, under-performing and many mail handlers say they are unreliable and simply prefer sorting these flats by hand

Absentee and mail-in ballots are both first-class mail. An absentee ballot requires a request for that the ballot, via mail, email, phone or online request to their state or local election office. This demonstrates that the ballot is going to a registered voter. Five states (Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington) currently handle almost all balloting by mail-in voting, meaning that a ballot is automatically mailed, at every election, to every registered voter. 

Earlier this year, the postal service warned that it may be difficult, with the surge of absentee and mail-in voting, to guarantee timely delivery of all ballots when it does not control nor is even aware of the ballot receipt deadlines which vary in each state. California, as one example, will tabulate ballots delivered up to one week following an election.

 But even if all 350 million Americans cast their ballots by mail and secured a postmark before the election day, and mailed those ballots the week of the election, the vast majority of those ballots will all be delivered in time for tabulation. But the USPS does not otherwise guarantee a time frame for the delivery of first-class mail, it only holds a priority, with Express and Priority Mail already in line ahead of it. However, in this age of manufactured crises – and this president also often being his own worst enemy, or at least his thumbs — removing aging postal sorters has become a constitutional crisis.

 Vote early, in person if you can and assist your friends and family members who cannot with voting by absentee or mail, and dropping their ballot in the mail, or in an elections office drop box the week prior to Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, and our USPS will handle the rest. 

And ZIP codes, not machine sorters, move the mail.

 Bill Crane also serves as a political analyst and commentator for Channel 2’s Action News, WSB-AM News/Talk 750 and now 95.5 FM, as well as a columnist for The Champion, DeKalb Free Press and Georgia Trend. Crane is a DeKalb native and business owner, living in Scottdale. You can reach him or comment on a column at bill.csicrane@gmail.com. 

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