In 1787 the authors of the Constitution guaranteed Congress the power “to establish Post Offices and post Roads,” as well as the responsibility to protect them (Article I, Section 8, Clause 7). Centuries ago, our Founding Fathers realized the importance of delivering basic necessities, providing means for democratic discussion and connecting over long distances, which prove vital services of the Postal Service. According to their website, the Postal Service delivers 48% of the world’s mail to over 160 million homes, including packages of medication and pensions to veterans and the elderly. Its importance only grew during the COVID-19 pandemic, delivering necessities such as food and clothing to people’s doorstep when it was unsafe to leave home. On top of serving a vital and daily role to citizens, the Postal Service is generally liked by Americans, with a 91% approval rate, according to the Pew Research Center.
However, after centuries of relatively uninterrupted operation, the United States Postal Service (USPS) is now in danger. Since Postmaster General Louis DeJoy began his role in June, he has enacted a number of cuts to the USPS, which was already suffering in the midst of an economic crisis. According to the New York Times, some of these cuts include ending overtime for workers and removing mail-sorting machines. As a result, this summer saw a dramatic increase in mail delays, provoking fear for the upcoming election that may significantly rely on mail-in voting. Critics of the Trump Administration have suggested that DeJoy’s cuts will result in voter suppression, which many believe is the President’s true aim.
Last Saturday, in a unique, recess-breaking election, the House voted to allocate $25 billion to the USPS and halt the operational changes DeJoy has been implementing that have slowed mail service. The vote passed with the support of Democrats and more than two dozen Republican congressmen. However, CNN reported that the Republican-majority Senate is unlikely to vote yes, and that even if it passes, Trump may veto the bill, as he has already admitted to wanting to decrease mail-in voting in efforts to prevent election fraud. Moreover, in a House Oversight Committee hearing this past Monday, DeJoy told the House that he will not roll back his cost-cutting measures before the election, including the reinstallation of collection boxes and mail-sorting machines as the House requested, according to the Washington Post. DeJoy has also expressed confidence that the USPS will be able to handle the great volume of mail-in ballots.
There are several speculations that may explain the push to limit funding for the Postal Service. First, many fear that Trump is sabotaging the election through DeJoy because a typical result of voting restrictions is the more privileged classes having a greater say over issues that impact already marginalized groups. Patrick Johnson, a senior at Hope and a political science major, explained that “voter suppression usually affects areas full of impoverished people and minorities, often neighborhoods that would be more likely to vote Democrat. However, you can’t enact voter suppression policies in wealthy areas.” Johnson also accredited the defunding to a basic difference between conservatives and liberals: a preference toward privatization of entities versus government-supported functions, respectively. “Part of it has to do with Trump looking at the USPS as a business rather than an essential service,” Johnson said. “It’s strange that we’re expecting the Postal Service to make money, whereas every dollar a school or the military spends is a dollar lost. We don’t expect the schools or military to break even or profit.” Finally, Johnson discussed that it’s possible that the president is primarily motivated to cut down the costs of a well-liked government function without taking the blame. “Some speculate that since Trump can’t privatize the Postal Service, he is making it so dysfunctional that people won’t get mad when it stops performing,” Johnson said.
Just as the disruption of mail affects most Americans, this issue is important to Hope College students. “The defunding of the Postal Service can affect Hope students in many ways,” said Johnson, “from mail-in voting that would give students a voice, to international students receiving essential documents, to domestic packages and letters from home. It’s also where the government conducts basic affairs, such as jury duty notices and court summons.”
Any Hope student concerned by these delays has the opportunity to request a mail-in ballot to send in prior to election day. Johnson also encourages students who feel strongly about the issue to “call senators, especially Republican senators, and tell them that the Postal Service will be an issue you are voting on.”