Trump's new postmaster general could corrupt a key institution ahead of Election Day

We can't let Trump get away with his attacks on the Postal Service — and our electoral system.
Image: Post Offices Across Country Brace For Expected Busiest Mail Day
Stacks of boxes holding cards and letters are seen at the U.S. Postal Service sorting center in San Francisco on Dec. 15, 2008.Justin Sullivan / Getty Images file
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By Donald K. Sherman, deputy director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and Sylvia Albert, director of voting and elections at Common Cause

Cronyism in high government positions has been a trademark of the Trump administration, but the selection of Republican mega-donor and Trump ally Louis DeJoy to lead the U.S. Postal Service threatens to corrupt one of America's most trusted institutions at a key moment.

Without increased and sustained scrutiny of DeJoy's leadership of the Postal Service, our democracy could face dire consequences.

In normal times, the selection of a postmaster general of the United States is unlikely to generate significant attention from the public. However, these are not normal times. Without increased and sustained scrutiny of DeJoy's leadership of the Postal Service, our democracy could face dire consequences.

Throughout his presidency, Donald Trump has attacked democratic institutions and undermined independent agencies. Now, as millions of voters are relying on the Postal Service to support our elections during the coronavirus pandemic, Trump is politicizing another once-nonpartisan government agency. Having a political ally with ethical and competence questions like DeJoy lead the agency potentially puts November's election at risk.

DeJoy's appointment raises several concerns about his qualifications and about potential ethics problems. When DeJoy took the job in June, he became the first person in decades to lead the Postal Service without experience as a letter carrier. Although DeJoy has previously worked with the Postal Service as a contractor, some have questioned his credentials and whether his lack of institutional memory will affect operations.

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DeJoy's previous work also poses potential financial conflicts of interests. DeJoy and his wife, a Trump appointee to the Commission on White House Fellowships who is his nominee to be the U.S. ambassador to Canada, own $30.1 million to $75.3 million in assets in Postal Service competitors or contractors, like UPS and the trucking company J.B. Hunt. Although DeJoy likely had to divest these conflicting assets, his ethics agreement and personal financial disclosure statement are not yet available on the Office of Government Ethics' website for the public to confirm.

Then there are the nonprofessional aspects of DeJoy's résumé. In 2017, DeJoy and his wife hosted Trump for a fundraiser in their home. When he was appointed, DeJoy was overseeing fundraising for the Republican National Convention, and he only recently resigned the post. Public records reveal that DeJoy donated more than $1.2 million to the Trump Victory Fund and millions more to the Republican Party. Although the Postal Service Board of Governors voted on the selection of DeJoy, the Trump administration, led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, angled for the authority to pick the new postmaster general, raising additional concerns about politicization of the agency.

One obvious reason for the Trump administration's keen interest in the postmaster general position is Trump's vociferous criticism of voting by mail. Installing a loyalist like DeJoy is another way Trump could undermine the agency and suppress voting in 2020. Even though Trump and 15 senior administration and campaign officials have recently voted by mail themselves, the president continues to make false claims about the integrity of the voting system. These actions are yet another desperate and potentially dangerous attempt to undermine the general election as his approval numbers continue to slip.

Voting by mail is a tried and tested method that has proven to ensure that elections are secure, accessible and fair. Trump's claims to the contrary are simply false, and they have been discounted by election experts across the political spectrum. Voting by mail is already used widely in many states, and it is supported by Republicans and Democrats alike. As Washington state's Republican secretary of state, Kim Wyman, recently explained, voting by mail "is secure and trustworthy."

The truth is that Trump isn't against voting by mail — he's already done it — but rather, he is against more people voting and any attempt to increase access to the polls. We know voting by mail, when combined with safe in-person voting and administered correctly, will allow Americans to have their voices heard without putting their health at risk during this pandemic.

Voting by mail has another benefit: It could improve operations at the Postal Service. At the federal level, the Postal Service's office of inspector general has found that increasing voting by mail could boost volume and revenue for the cash-strapped agency by about $2 million annually. A review by the inspector general after the 2018 election cycle found that the Postal Service "performed well," hitting 95.6 percent on-time performance, just shy of its goal of 96 percent.

The Postal Service plays an important role in ensuring that voters can cast their ballots by mail. In states that do not offer prepaid postage, the Postal Service still delivers ballots that do not require postage to submit. The Postal Service works with state election officials to design the ballots' envelopes to ensure a smoother process, and it handles ballots differently from regular mail so every vote is counted. But what happens if that cooperation slows or breaks down? We are already seeing warning signs. Public reports indicate that DeJoy is planning to eliminate overtime, which could cause delivery delays and hinder voting by mail.

We can't let Trump get away with his attacks on the Postal Service — and our electoral system. It is incumbent upon Congress, the Postal Service's inspector general and the public to ensure that there is transparency and accountability for DeJoy and his agency's role in facilitating voting by mail in 2020 and beyond.

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