Trump and the post office, fake news on stilts

Glancing casually at the Washington Post these days one gets the impression that it is America’s post offices, not police stations in cities like Portland and Minneapolis, that are being attacked and burned down, and that it is President Trump’s team, not BLM and Antifa gangs, that is doing the attacking and burning.

“Trump’s assault on the U.S. Postal Service gives Democrats a new campaign message,” blared a Washington Post headline, wishfully. The media needs to sustain “red alert coverage” of Trump’s efforts to cripple the Postal Service, implored Margaret Sullivan, the Post’s hack, hyper-partisan media critic. No doubt, the media will.

But, as Byron York patiently shows, the story is fake news. The pretext for the story is a dispute over the Health and Economic Recover Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, or HEROES Act, passed by the Democratic House but not the Republican Senate. Byron explains:

The House HEROES Act would give $25 billion to the Postal Service in what is essentially a bailout. The bill mentions nothing about helping the Postal Service handle the upcoming election or any other election.

Indeed, the only stipulation at all placed on the $25 billion is that the Postal Service, “during the coronavirus emergency, shall prioritize the purchase of, and make available to all Postal Service employees and facilities, personal protective equipment, including gloves, masks, and sanitizers, and shall conduct additional cleaning and sanitizing of Postal Service facilities and delivery vehicles.” If the House Democrats who wrote and passed the bill intended the money to be spent specifically for elections, they did not say so in the text of the legislation.

Nor does the Postal Service need the $25 billion to handle mail during this year’s election.

The idea that the Postal Service will not be able to handle the volume of mail in the election, or not be able to handle it within normal Postal Service time guidelines, does not make much sense. According to its most recent annual report, last year, in fiscal year 2019, the Postal Service handled 142.5 billion pieces of mail. “On a typical day, our 633,000 employees physically process and deliver 471 million mailpieces to nearly 160 million delivery points,” the report says. This year, that number is higher, given the Postal Service’s delivery of census forms and stimulus checks. Those alone added about 450 million additional pieces of mail.

In 2016, about 136 million Americans voted in the presidential election. The number will probably be a bit higher this year. If officials sent ballots to every single American registered to vote, about 158 million people, and then 140 million people returned ballots, the roughly 298 million pieces of mail handled over the course of several weeks would be well within the Postal Service’s ability to handle. Of course, officials will not send a ballot to every American registered to vote, and not every voter will vote by mail. Whatever the final number is, the ballots that are cast by mail will not cripple a system that delivers 471 million pieces of mail every day.

It’s true that voting by mail hasn’t worked in some jurisdictions. But this has nothing to do with the Postal Service:

There are, of course, compelling examples of election dysfunction, most notably the mess New York made of some of its congressional primaries this summer. But rather than representing a Postal Service problem, that was because some states are unprepared for a dramatic increase of voting by mail.

The states have to prepare the ballots, address them, and process and count them when the Postal Service delivers them. That is the focus of the entirely legitimate fears of a possible vote-counting disaster this year. But it’s not the Postal Service.

What about the media’s breathless reporting that the Trump Postal Service is removing collection boxes and sorting machines? Says Byron:

While some Democrats and journalists have portrayed that as another effort toward voter suppression, the fact is the number of letters the Postal Service handles each year has declined for 20 years since the arrival of email. In those last two decades, the Postal Service has downsized its capabilities as the number of letters handled has decreased.

Here is how the Washington Post described the situation, specifically concerning sorting machines: “Purchased when letters not packages made up a greater share of postal work, the bulky and aging machines can be expensive to maintain and take up floor space postal leaders say would be better devoted to boxes. Removing underused machines would make the overall system more efficient, postal leaders say. The Postal Service has cut back on mail-sorting equipment for years since mail volume began to decline in the 2000s.”

(Emphasis added)

There’s a lot more to Byron’s reporting on this story and I recommend reading his entire article. But you get the idea. The media’s claim that Trump intends to spoil the election by undermining the Post Office story is fake news on stilts.

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