The United States Postal Service (USPS) will be able to deliver the nation’s mail-in ballots fully and on time, said Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on Friday, acknowledging recent delays in mail delivery while defending the cost-cutting changes made under his watch.
Mr DeJoy was grilled at a Senate hearing, which had been called due to growing concerns that the USPS would not be able to cope with the expected surge in mail-in voting due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The furore over the delays shows how politicised a commonly accepted method of voting has become, and how much US President Donald Trump’s attacks on voting by mail have created an atmosphere of mistrust over any organisational changes.
Democrats fear a deliberate partisan attempt by Mr DeJoy to sabotage the delivery of ballots to help Mr Trump win the election, after the President’s repeated attacks on the legitimacy of mail-in voting.
Mr DeJoy, the chief executive of a logistics firm, has donated over US$1.2 million (S$1.65 million) to the Trump campaign and is the first postmaster-general in decades to come from outside the USPS. He was appointed in June by a board of governors with ties to Mr Trump.
On Friday, Mr DeJoy called the suggestions that he was interfering with ballot delivery “an outrageous claim” and said he had only once spoken with Mr Trump in a congratulatory call when he was appointed as postmaster-general.
During the hearing, Democrat and Republican senators expressed concern about widespread delays in mail delivery, which vulnerable seniors and veterans rely on to receive their medicine and essential cheques, particularly in rural areas.
Mr DeJoy said his reforms were needed to keep the USPS financially afloat. “Managing the postal service in an efficient and effective manner cannot succeed if everything is politicised,” he said.
He said he supported voting by mail and thought the American public should be able to do so, in contrast to Mr Trump’s repeated disparagement of the process.
Mr Trump has repeatedly claimed without proof that voting by mail enables widespread electoral fraud and benefits Democrats, a move that has alarmed critics who view it as an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of the result should he lose.
Hours after Mr DeJoy’s testimony, Mr Trump told supporters at the meeting of the conservative Council for National Policy in Arlington, Virginia, that voting by mail “could be one of the greatest catastrophes in the history of our country”.
In fact, more Americans are voting by mail, although this varies widely by state. The share of voters who vote by mail has risen from 7.8 per cent in 1996 to 20.9 per cent in 2016, according to a Pew Research Centre analysis. A Pew poll in April found that 70 per cent supported allowing any voter to vote by mail if they wanted to.
Democrats, who fear that Republicans’ resistance to make it easier to vote by mail is an attempt to suppress voters, point to Mr Trump’s past comments that he opposed more funding for the USPS to hamper efforts to expand mail-in voting.