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Washington Democrats support probe of postal service

Aug. 17, 2020 Updated Mon., Aug. 17, 2020 at 9:33 p.m.

A USPS mailbox stands beside the Canal Street station, Monday, Aug. 17, 2020, in New York.   (John Minchillo)
A USPS mailbox stands beside the Canal Street station, Monday, Aug. 17, 2020, in New York.  (John Minchillo)

As Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the U.S. House of Representatives back into session this week to investigate the Postal Service, Washington Democrats in both chambers criticized plans to reorganize the mail system and the state’s attorney general was considering legal action.

Washington’s chief elections officer said she was confident state residents won’t have their voting rights harmed by the postal service changes but said Postmaster Louis DeJoy needs to answer concerns of other states and respond to a request he has so far ignored.

Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell joined other Senate Democrats in demanding Postmaster Louis DeJoy answer questions about the changes to the postal service, show them any analysis he had to justify them, and if there were none answer why not.

U.S. Reps. Denny Heck, Olympia, and Pramila Jayapal, Seattle, participated in a news conference outside a post office in the Seattle neighborhood of Wallingford to denounce the changes with state Rep. Gael Tarleton, the Democratic candidate for secretary of state, the office that oversees elections.

Tarleton said the state should use emergency powers to add more ballot drop box locations and extend the time ballots can be received and recorded before the election is certified. Under current law ballots that are mailed and postmarked on or before Election Day can be verified, processed and counted up to three weeks after the Nov. 3 election.

Jayapal, who called postal delivery a “fundamental right in the Constitution,” said the House will vote as early as Saturday on legislation to restore the postal service operations being reduced by DeJoy. He has also been called to appear at a hearing before the Oversight Committee on Monday.

Heck called the reductions in postal service that could lead to slower delivery of ballots “an attack on American democracy.” The House would fight reductions to postal service in committees, in the hallways, on the floor, in court and at the ballot box, he said.

In a news release, Rep. Jamie Herrera Beutler, a Southwest Washington Republican, said she was also asking DeJoy to resolve problems with mail delivery, particularly in rural areas and for seniors who rely on the postal service, as well as to maintain confidence in elections.

“It’s imperative that you change course quickly,” Herrera Beutler wrote. “Your actions and statements to date have unnecessarily undermined confidence in our election process, and I urge you to take steps to restore trust as quickly as possible.”

Republican elected officials who don’t speak out against the changes DeJoy is ordering, which include the closure and consolidation of some sorting offices and strict limits on overtime for carriers, are accomplices, Heck said. Tarleton said current Secretary of State Kim Wyman, her opponent in the Nov. 3 election, should give “full support” to any legal action mounted by state Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

In a statement released by his office, Ferguson said he was “deeply concerned” about changes in the postal service and was talking with his counterparts in other states. But he stopped short of vowing a lawsuit, saying only that they were considering all legal options.

Wyman, who last week said she was assured the Postal Service would continue to provide “excellent service” to Washington voters in its all-mail election, said Monday she remains confident that would be the case in November.

Because of that, she doesn’t yet know if the state has standing to sue over the new rules. But she has provided Ferguson’s staff with all the information they’ve requested about the administration of the elections.

The National Association of Secretaries of State, of which Wyman is a member, asked DeJoy on August 7 for a meeting to discuss the effect of his changes to the postal service on the election. Although the organization asked for a meeting by no later than August 14, DeJoy has yet to respond, a spokeswoman said.

“I’m hoping he will respond and sit down and answer the tough questions,” Wyman said

She and county elections officials, who are in charge of mailing, receiving and processing the ballots, have discussed the biggest problem presented by the new postal rules, which involve new registrations or updating existing registrations with new addresses after some 4.6 million ballots are mailed out in mid-October. Those can be requested by internet or mail up to eight days before the Nov. 3 election, and the bulk rate postage counties use for their main mailing might not get those requested ballots to voters in time.

The counties are planning to use federal money from the CARES Act to upgrade postage to first class when they are mailed out, she said.

Tarleton and other Democrats said they would seek emergency measures to increase the number of drop boxes counties have and extend the time ballots can be received, processed and counted.

Wyman said counties are already looking into finding more spots for ballot drop boxes. But there may be limitations to finding secure locations, finding a supply of secure drop boxes they can purchase and having the personnel to monitor them.

She wouldn’t oppose extending the time to count ballots that come in properly postmarked, but noted the current three-week limit is probably enough. The vast majority of ballots are received at county elections offices by the end of the week in which the election is held. In the August primary, those late ballots had a very low rejection rate, she added.

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