🚨USPS updates🚨 (+ 2 stories)

While I try to keep this mostly just a vehicle to share my reporting, I’m going to start today with general updates on the Postal Service, since that’s really become one of the most alarming political stories.

If you missed the last newsletter, on July 29 I wrote about new worrying policies being implemented at USPS — among which included directives urging postal staff to leave behind mail at distribution centers, announcements that USPS would be looking to cut overtime and transportation, and the announcement of a new pilot program that would prohibit carriers from sorting any mail in the morning before they hit the streets. All these together raised serious questions about whether mail delivery would be significantly delayed.

At the time, the most outspoken member of Congress was Rep. Bill Pascrell, a Democrat from New Jersey who was raising alarm about how this could impact vote-by-mail in November. Since then, a whole lot more lawmakers have started speaking out, as even more new policies have come down.

On Wednesday at a press briefing Donald Trump said he wouldn’t approve $25 billion in emergency funding for the Postal Service. “They don’t have the money to do the universal mail-in voting. So therefore, they can’t do it, I guess,” Trump said. “Are they going to do it even if they don’t have the money?”

The next morning in a Fox Business interview Trump said, “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.”

Trump’s been denigrating absentee voting for months, even though he and many of his closest aides have exercised their right to vote-by-mail in years past.

Here’s a non-exhaustive list of USPS developments since my story:

Members of Congress are now considering coming back from recess to investigate all this, and Elizabeth Warren also requested an Inspector General review into the new policies, which they’re going to do.

Does this mean you shouldn’t vote by mail?

This is a question a lot of people are asking themselves. Earlier this week Anthony Fauci said people should be able to vote safely in-person, as long as election sites use the same sorts of social distancing guidelines as grocery stores. And I know some states are looking at setting up polling sites outside and in stadiums which have the advantage of better ventilation. (The L.A Dodgers stadium is going to do this in November.) But a lot of it might depend on how long the lines on Election Day are. You might want to find out details about your particular location, and also if you want to vote in-person, look to see if early in-person voting is an option which could be less crowded. But regardless there are going to be lots of people who don’t feel comfortable taking the risk and who want to vote by mail.

I’ve seen a few smart things online about this situation. One near-term suggestion is pressuring states to change their deadlines so that voters can request (and receive) their absentee ballots earlier. If you can mail your ballot back sooner, then delivery delays may not be as much of a problem.

I also saw a friend on Facebook post this as an alternative to mailing your absentee ballot back in.

1. Request a mail-in ballot.
2. When it arrives, fill it out but do not mail it.
3. Google your supervisor of elections to see where you can drop off your ballot. (All states have drop-off locations, though it’s often
not your designated polling place.)

By doing this you won’t be relying on USPS to get your ballot back in on time, you can avoid potentially long lines, and you just have to travel to the drop-off location. Some states may have additional rules, but after you drop it off you should be able to track it online to make sure it was processed.

I’d encourage people to keep following these issues over the next few weeks, and begin figuring out what voting plan makes the most sense for you. If you have other ideas or suggestions feel free to leave them in the comments.

Okay! Two new stories to share.

I wrote last week about momentum in the Senate to make phone calls from prison free. Even though we know keeping in touch with loved ones is so crucial for families and incarcerated persons, and during the pandemic in-person visiting isn’t really an option, some states make the costs of prison phone and video calls so exorbitantly high that it becomes just untenable. I looked at some new developments around this issue in the FCC and Congress. 

San Francisco also announced last week that it would end the practice of profiting from prison phone calls, which is good news, but we should have nationwide standards around this.

And lastly I have a story on another Congressional primary in Massachussetts, where a 36-year-old progressive physician named Robbie Goldstein is taking on nine-term incumbent Stephen Lynch, who is the most moderate member of the Massachussetts delegation. Unlike in the Kennedy/Markey race, there really is a clear policy contrast between the two candidates in this election, but it’s been hard for Goldstein to get traction, in part because allies are very focused on the Markey race, and another House race in the state, between Alex Morse and Rep. Richard Neal. The primary for all these contests is September 1.