Missouri Gov. Mike Parson and lawmakers should ensure that all ballots — including mail-in ballots properly submitted — will count in the November election.
Missouri law requires ballots to be received by election authorities by 7 p.m. on Election Day. The U.S. Postal Service has sent an advisory recommending that all voters casting mail-in ballots in Missouri post them by Oct. 27, a week before Election Day. The deadline to request a ballot by mail is Oct. 21.
U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has come under fire for mail delays as he has implemented changes including removing mail sorting machines, reducing overtime, removing iconic blue mailboxes and requiring mail to be held on busy routes.
DeJoy has said the changes are necessary because the Post Office is losing money, but President Donald Trump told Fox Business Network at one point:
"Now, they need that money in order to make the Post Office work, so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots.
"Now, if we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money. That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting, they just can’t have it."
Though he later backed away from that statement, the changes have resulted in mail delays and the advisories sent to officials in 46 states.
The Post Office has shown losses for more than a decade, and most of the loss is actually created by the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act passed by Congress in 2006. The law requires the Postal Service to calculate its likely pension costs for at least the next 50 years, and then pay enough money to the federally administered fund to cover the bulk of those retirement obligations. No other entity faces such a requirement, and the annual payments take a huge bite out of the revenue the service brings in.
There are other drains on the postal bottom line. The same law tied postal rate increases to inflation and required rates be set by the Postal Regulatory Commission. The Post Office must file requests for any rate increases but cannot negotiate deals outside that structure or raise rates quickly as costs change. That has made it difficult to adapt to the collapse of first-class mail volume as email, social media and texting replaced most personal mail. FedEx and UPS also have taken a chunk of revenue from package shipping, though Amazon ships through the Postal Service and both of the commercial shippers rely on the Post Office to complete shipments to remote locations.
In Missouri, while absentee ballots can be turned in to the local election authority, mail-in ballots — a new option lawmakers approved to protect the vulnerable during the pandemic — can only be returned by mail. The option to return the ballot in person would offer a workaround for the mail delays. The governor and lawmakers should amend the system to allow that as a stopgap for our postal woes.
DeJoy has said he is suspending the problematic cost-cutting initiatives until after the November election. He is poised to address those issues at a Senate hearing today then to appear before a House panel on Monday with Robert M. Duncan, chairman of the USPS Board of Governors.
Congress and the president also should approve additional funding for the Postal Service. In the pandemic, many depend on it for essential goods including medicines and the foundational right in our representative democracy, the right to cast your vote and have it count.