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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

State’s top election official says Postal Service critical to Washington elections

United States Postal Carrier Dave Lantz is photographed in Spokane on Tuesday. USPS is critical to ensuring washington vote-by-mail elections can function, Secretary of State Kim Wyman told Congress this week. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
By Jack Kelly For The Spokesman-Review

An underfunded or broke United States Postal Service could threaten the freedom and fairness of Washington’s elections, the state’s top election official said Wednesday.

Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican, urged Congress to provide emergency funding to ensure the agency’s survival.

During a news conference call, Wyman warned if “Congress does not act to fund the United States Postal Service, we stand to lose more than just vital mail services.” The postal service is key to guaranteeing Washingtonians’ access to their ballots, she said.

U.S. Postmaster General Megan Brennan said in a statement earlier this month that the coronavirus pandemic will increase the Postal Service’s net operating loss by more than $22 billion over the next 18 months and more than $54 billion in the longer term, “threatening our ability to operate.”

Brennan said the service relies on revenue from the sale of postal products and services to operate, but those sales are “plummeting” because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Service officials told lawmakers in early April that it could run out of money by September if it does not receive federal assistance.

A YouGov poll commissioned by the American Postal Workers Union released Wednesday shows 67% of U.S. adults think Congress should fund USPS in its next coronavirus relief bill. President Donald Trump has threatened to block an emergency $10 billion loan approved by Congress for USPS unless it raises shipping prices on online retailers.

Washington’s vote-by-mail elections have been praised by election officials across the country in recent weeks for the security of its elections. The state is viewed by many as an example for other states as they explore vote-by-mail systems and expanding absentee voting amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Wyman said the Postal Service’s role in the state’s elections extends beyond just delivering and collecting ballots and that a defunct mail service would be “disastrous” to the state’s electoral system.

“One of the ways that every state in the country updates their (voter registration list) … is the U.S. Postal Service,” Wyman said. “USPS is integral in our success as a country in ensuring that everyone has access to our elections in, arguably, the most anticipated election of the last 100 years.”

Wyman added that a “large swath” of Washingtonians receive their ballots in Post Office boxes, which would not be available. This is among the many reasons that using private companies like FedEx, UPS and DHL is not a viable alternative for delivering ballots, she said.

American Postal Workers Union President Mark Dimondstein agreed with Wyman that private companies cannot replace the role of the Postal Service.

“There’s no private company that, by mandate, has to go to every address in the country,” Dimondstein said. “Private companies are based on profit, and there’s no company that could afford to go to every address from the most densely populated urban areas to the most remote rural areas.”

“Election administrators’ role is to instill confidence from the staunchest, hard-core, right-wing Republican to the most liberal, progressive Democrat, and every person on that spectrum, that(an) election was fair and that it was accurate,” Wyman said. “The way that you do that is by balancing access and security (of elections), and when either of those gets out of balance, people start calling into question how fair the election was.”

Jack Kelly writes for the Medill News Service.