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Saturday, March 6, 2021

USPS delays impact businesses, possibly election

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Kimberly Quall hasn’t received mail in two weeks. 

The 44-year-old business owner said she’s had to go to the post office to inquire about her bills and other important mail. Beyond worrying that her payments will get lost or delayed, Quall said issues with the postal service are impacting her business, Chibbey Wee Crochet. 

“I ship out all my packages from the post office, and I’ve been doing that for four or five years,” Quall said. “I’ve never had an issue. Now, packages that used to take three days to be delivered are taking 15 days, and customers keep calling.”

While Quall doesn’t blame postal workers for the problems, she said delays could force her to find more expensive options to ship her products.

After Postmaster General Louis DeJoy — an ally of President Donald Trump — stepped into his position in June, postal workers across the country have complained of cuts to overtime pay and limited post office hours, which they say have caused extensive delays in deliveries. 

Doug Brown, state president of the Indiana Postal Workers Union, said cuts to overtime and a push to privatize the USPS could have a major impact on Americans, particularly the elderly and veterans. 

“It’s very upsetting for us, because there are a lot of elderly people who rely on medications through the mail, and veterans who rely on timely medications,” Brown said during a protest at a Carmel post office Aug. 25. “And people in rural areas rely on the postal service for financial transactions, because they don’t have access to broadband and the internet like we do here in the city.

“The post office belongs to the public. It’s in the Constitution,” Brown said. “How can you privatize something that belongs to the public?”

Many worry that DeJoy’s appointment and the changes made since earlier in the summer will affect more than the speed you receive your mail. Katie Blair, director of advocacy and public policy at the ACLU of Indiana, said threats to the USPS is a direct threat to democracy. 

“Voting by mail is going to be the safest way for many people to vote in November,” Blair said, referencing the COVID-19 pandemic. “We can expect higher than ever absentee voting, and by cutting back funding [to USPS] and making changes in operations that cause delays, they are standing in the way of people participating fully in democracy by voting.”

Despite arguments from Trump that mail-in voting could lead to fraud, Brown said, in his three decades working with USPS, there’s no potential for fraud. 

“It’s important to note that mail-in balloting has been done for generations through the postal service, especially by the military and the elderly,” Brown said. “The Postal Inspection Service, they all monitor postal employees. We are also vetted by the FBI, all postal workers have background checks. I have never seen any fraud, and I don’t think there’s any potential for fraud.”

Blair said Hoosiers may have trouble getting permission to vote by mail in the upcoming general election due to “vague” state laws. 

“Right now, there are 11 reasons why someone can request an absentee ballot, and one of those reasons is being confined due to illness,” Blair said. “What we need is clarity on what that actually means, and we need the governor and secretary of state to come out and say if quarantining due to the pandemic is an excuse people can use to request a ballot.”

It seems unlikely that will happen. 

Despite expanding mail-in voting for the primary in June, Gov. Eric Holcomb has since said it’s safe to vote in person.

“There are a lot of people out and about, whether it’s working or going to the grocery story or doing your lives, and they’re doing it safely,” Holcomb said in a COVID-19 briefing Aug. 5. “And we can vote safely in person as well.” 

Holcomb reiterated this idea in a press conference Aug. 19.

“Our plans for how to express your vote is exactly as it has been advertised to date,” Holcomb said. “You have opportunities to vote absentee, in person early, or on Election Day. You have multiple shots on goal.”

Blair said this still doesn’t provide the guidance needed to help Hoosiers make the best decisions for their health. For votes sent through the mail to be counted, they must be in the mail by noon on Election Day. 

“That doesn’t mean it’s postmarked by Election Day,” Blair said. “You don’t know how long it will be in the mail. The mail could get there at 2 p.m. and you miss your chance to have your ballot casted. These vague laws and an increase in absentee ballots is going to run the risk of people not having their votes counted.”

The ACLU of Indiana is currently working to get election officials to enact no-excuse absentee voting, which would allow all Hoosiers the ability to vote by mail. Blair said they’ve sent over 10,000 messages from state residents to officials. 

Rima Shahid, executive director of Women4Change Indiana, encourages anyone who is eligible to get an absentee ballot to request one now, fill it out and return it as soon as possible. 

“I think that this is another way in 2020 that we’re seeing voter suppression come to the forefront,” Shahid said. “We cannot rely and wait for a number of days before we do that [mail ballots], as we saw during the primary, votes get lost that way.”

On the topic of voter suppression, Shahid referenced Marion County — the state’s most populated and diverse county — which only had one early voting site in 2018, unlike surrounding counties, which had multiple. 

Regardless of what decisions are made regarding absentee voting, Quall is determined to cast a vote. Although she originally planned on voting through the mail, she said she’s willing to risk her health to vote in person to ensure her ballot is counted.

“They’re trying to make sure our ballot doesn’t get there in time,” Quall said. “If I mail it, I’ve got no clue when it will get to where it needs to be. I’m going to bring a chair, pack a lunch and some battery packs, and I’ll sit there for hours. I’m not leaving until I cast my vote.”

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

Postal workers gathered outside a post office in Carmel to protest changes to the postal service under Postmaster Louis DeJoy. (Photo/Breanna Cooper)

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