It is frustrating to see the USPS erode to a shell of its former self
Voting abroad has always been something I looked forward to. I was taught that voting is my duty as a U.S. citizen and I am privileged to be able to participate in the election — even if I live on the other side of the border. This year, Maryland sent me my ballot by email, making the process even easier.
As Nov. 3 drew closer, I got ready to vote. I changed my address on Maryland’s voter registry, triple-checking that I put everything in correctly on the form. I discussed with my parents whether they were voting this year.
But when I turned on my computer to read the news, my excitement quickly turned into fear.
I first heard about the destruction of the United States Postal Service (USPS) in August when the Washington Post reported the American Postal Workers Union had filed a grievance against the postal service. This included complaints about the USPS planning to remove 671 mail sorting facilities as part of Postmaster General Louis Dejoy’s changes to cut costs. These machines are capable of sorting millions of pieces of mail per hour and are crucial to the USPS’s operations, which deliver 48 per cent of the world’s mail.
The USPS then sent letters to 46 states and Washington, D.C. stating it cannot guarantee that ballots will arrive in time to be counted for the November presidential election. Since then, a federal judge has ordered temporary blocks to USPS policy changes nationwide ahead of the presidential elections. DeJoy has also promised to pause all operational reforms to “avoid the appearance of any impact on election mail,” according to Reuters.
But a lot of the damage has already been done. Americans faced unusual mail delays in first-class mail (letters, postcards, etc.) in September, according to a report by the New York Times. Americans living in poor and rural areas suffered disproportionately, as have Native Americans living on reserves who have already been left out in the push for mail-in voting this election.
I don’t know if my ballot will arrive on time. Quite honestly, I am prepared for the reality that it won’t get to Maryland on time. I received my ballot on Sept. 29 and mailed it out the next day. I have been checking its status constantly on Maryland’s Board of Election website. My file has not been updated since the board mailed me my ballot a month ago.
I am not the only U.S. citizen at Ryerson feeling anxious. Tess Stuber, a journalism student from Ohio, is not confident that her ballot will arrive in time. She said she has already mailed her ballot but should have test-mailed a letter home to see how long it would take to get there.
“To be honest, I haven’t kept up with (the news about the USPS), but now people are saying don’t even bother sending stuff home. Don’t bother sending anything because it won’t get there for a whole month,” she said.
“I hope I did it right. There are a million things that could go wrong. Even if the USPS manages to deliver (it) to the agency, they could decide for whatever reason they want that my ballot is invalid.”
Stuber’s concerns are not unfounded. Some states require secrecy sleeves to be mailed as part of the mail-in ballot and will throw out ballots that come without one. A secrecy sleeve is a paper document designed to protect voters’ privacy by separating their identity and signature from their ballot, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. After completing a ballot, a voter places it inside the secrecy sleeve which then goes inside the return envelope. 16 states require voters to mail their ballots in secrecy envelopes. Ohio, where Stuber votes, is one. For other states, like Maryland and Colorado, it is up to local election boards to decide whether or not to include them.
Many are concerned that secrecy envelopes are an additional barrier for those who are planning to vote in this election. In Pennsylvania, the state’s supreme court decided ballots that don’t come with secrecy envelopes will not be counted in the November general election. The Washington Post estimated more than 100,000 votes could be thrown out in the general election statewide. A letter was sent to state legislators urging them to eliminate this requirement.
Stuber said she is very involved with U.S. political news. She listens to Spotify’s “Daily Drive,” a playlist of news broadcasts mixed in with her music, when she gets ready for school every morning. Lately, the news has been centred on the U.S. election. When asked if she was anxious about the election, she laughed a little.
“Anxious — that is a funny word,” said Stuber. “I’m terrified. This election is absolutely terrifying in a whole lot of ways. Democracy is crumbling. Trying to put why it’s terrible into one sentence or even a cohesive thought is challenging.”
Jack Wise, a third-year journalism student from California, expressed similar concerns. He said he mailed his ballot early, but is worried about its validity when it gets to his county’s election office.
“There’s this thing in the back of my mind that (the ballot) could get destroyed, or that I get an email stating it was destroyed or I just never hear about it arriving. That’s just an uncertain reality,” Wise said. “It’s quite disheartening to hear about what’s happening because time and time again, regardless if you’re a Republican or Democrat, it’s always been a trusted service to get things to people.”
The postal service delays also affect his ability to receive letters from loved ones.
“Asides from the elections, I love receiving letters from loved ones and also mailing them back. This goes for care packages as well, sometimes it’s nice to get that during a hard week or a hard semester,” Wise said.
That’s just one of Wise’s many concerns about the USPS. Right now, he wants to be able to perform his civic duty as an American citizen.
“The right to vote is really important. A lot of people die for it. A lot of people still don’t get (to vote). It’s something that is so important,” he said.
It is frustrating to see the USPS erode to a shell of its former self. It is an essential public service that helped build America’s transportation networks and communications systems. The postal service said so itself.
There is also no telling how long this election will drag on due to postal services delays. Some states are accepting ballots that arrive after election day, which will further delay the results of the election.
I recognize my privilege that my biggest concern with the USPS is whether or not my ballot will arrive in time for the November election. For many Americans who rely on food stamps and other federal benefits, the USPS is literally a life line. I am worried for their livelihoods if the USPS disappears. I am also worried for the health of our democracy right now. I am terrified about what’s to come.