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Pa. union president: Postal leader is sabotaging mail-in voting, removing equipment

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

The president of the union representing Pennsylvania's postal workers says the agency's new leader is deliberately crippling mail delivery as demand spikes for mail-in voting during the pandemic.

York County election officials echoed Gov. Tom Wolf's Thursday call to extend the deadline for accepting mail-in ballots in response to slowdowns in service at the U.S. Postal Service.

County officials expect more than 100,000 York County residents to vote by mail in the Nov. 3 presidential election, said county spokesperson Mark Walters.

Walters said Friday he didn't want to speculate about what will or won't happen in November with the mail-in voting situation, but he noted there are challenges with any election.

"We are doing everything we can, as we always have and always will, to ensure a free and fair election," he said.

But the county has no say over how the Postal Service is run, and the president of the Pennsylvania Postal Workers Union said Friday that decisions made by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy are sabotaging the Postal Service's ability to efficiently deliver mail.

FILE - In this May 27, 2020 file photo, a worker processes mail-in ballots at the Bucks County Board of Elections office prior to the primary election in Doylestown, Pa. Deep-pocketed and often anonymous donors are pouring over $100 million into an intensifying dispute about whether it should be easier to vote by mail, a fight that could determine President Donald Trump's fate in the November election. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

More:Trump opposes postal money that would help vote-by-mail

More:York County eyes more mail-in boxes after Trump files a lawsuit

Sorting machines removed: Mike Stephenson, president of the PPWU, said the central Pennsylvania region has only two sorting centers — one in Harrisburg and the other near Allentown — to sort all mail sent in the region.

Recent directives from agency leaders to remove some sorting machines mean mail delivery will be delayed, he said.

The justification DeJoy gave for removing some sorting machines is the reduction in first class mail and advertising materials being sent, and that it's a cost-saving measure, Stephenson said.

More:Pennsylvania asks court to extend mail-in voting deadlines

FILE - In this July 31, 2020, file photo, letter carriers load mail trucks for deliveries at a U.S. Postal Service facility in McLean, Va. The success of the 2020 presidential election could come down to a most unlikely government agency: the U.S. Postal Service. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

But the Postal Service will need those machines once demand picks up again, he said.

"All they have to do is throw off the switch on that machine and let it sit there until everything comes back, particularly until election mail comes back for the fall," Stephenson said.

DeJoy also eliminated overtime hours, meaning mail that isn't sorted or delivered within the time frame of an employee's regular shift must be left until the next day, which Stephenson said will lead to a pile-up of unsorted, undelivered mail that will continue to snowball.

DeJoy is a major donor to the Republican Party and President Donald Trump, and Democratic lawmakers have said DeJoy is trying to sabotage the Postal Service before the Nov. 3 election to hurt the mail-in voting system and help Trump's reelection campaign.

In a Thursday interview on Fox Business Network, Trump explicitly noted two funding provisions that Democrats are seeking in a relief package that has stalled on Capitol Hill, The Associated Press reported. 

Without the additional money, Trump said, the Postal Service won't have the resources to handle a flood of ballots from voters who are seeking to avoid polling places during the coronavirus pandemic.

“If we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money,” Trump told host Maria Bartiromo. “That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting; they just can’t have it.”

Wolf asks to extend deadline: Concerns about the potential disenfranchisement of voters due to delays in delivery of mail-in ballots came to a head Thursday in Pennsylvania when the Wolf administration filed a request with the state Supreme Court to extend the deadline for accepting ballots beyond Election Day.

The administration requested that ballots be accepted up to three days after Election Day, The Associated Press reported.

The filing stated that Pennsylvania's deadline to submit an application for a mail-in ballot is only one week before the election, leaving little time for the ballot to be delivered to the voter, then delivered back to the local election office in time, the AP reported.

As it stands now, the deadline to apply for a mail-in ballot is 5 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 27, and the deadline to return the ballot to the county election office is 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 3.

The Pennsylvania Department of State is aware of concerns about mail-in ballot delivery, spokesperson Wanda Murren said in an email Tuesday. 

"For that reason and given that we expect a high volume of mail ballots across the state, we are urging voters to apply now for their mail-in or absentee ballots," she stated.

Murren said after the ballots are finalized and printed in September, eligible voters can go to their local election office and apply for, fill out and submit their ballots all in the same visit.

To apply for a mail-in ballot online, visit VotesPA.com/ApplyMailBallot.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.