The post office. The post office? Oh really? Cmon!
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds -- Unofficial motto, United States Postal Service
The post office. The post office? Oh really? Cmon!
Maybe you are like me: increasingly anxious about the state of our postal system, how its institutional stumbling and intentional downsizing by Uncle Sam may be a direct threat to the ability of our nation to have free and fair and transparent elections come Nov. 3.
The irony is that most of us as citizens and users of the system, mail senders and mail receivers: up until this weird moment in history, we havent thought much about the man or woman in the light blue uniform, driving a boxy red white and blue van, who arrives outside of our door six days a week and delivers the mail.
We just take it for granted.
I still get a little jolt of excitement when I go to the mail box and open it up and wonder just what treasures it might hold for me: a get well card or a package from Amazon or my New Yorker or Bicycling magazines or a postcard from a friend. I know this is a bit nostalgic. As a boy, I always tried to beat my family members to the mail box and be the first in my clan to read the latest issue of Life magazine.
For those under the age of 50, you probably wont get that reference. Many folks younger than me, many people in general, view the USPS as a dinosaur of sorts, a quaint relic of days past, a service that now delivers mostly junk mail and sales flyers and freebie newspapers, and a very, very rare item called a letter.
These have been tough decades for the oldest federal agency, created by the Continental Congress in 1775, who appointed Benjamin Franklin as the very first postmaster general. Recognizing it as an essential service for the nation, its work is actually prescribed in the United States Constitution. For most of its history, the post office was nonpartisan and very good at what it did: delivering the mail. It has served as a lifeline and gathering spot, and still does, in more than 31,000 cities and small towns and villages. It is the most ubiquitous symbol of Uncle Sam and the federal government in our country.
But in this age of email and texts and instant communication and very high expectations about package delivery (order it today and get it tomorrow), the USPS has stumbled badly in the past several years. It hasnt kept up with, nor been very good at, adapting to this new world of immediate human connection. In 2020 it expects to lose more than $13 billion. And now in these pandemic times, the USPS is being asked to handle and deliver mail-in election ballots in all 50 states, for a potential pool of 180 million voters. In response to this challenge, the agency sent letters to all 50 states in July, warning them that it could not guarantee that all the ballots would be delivered on time, either to the voters or election officials.
Can 2020 get any harder?!?!
In response to this potential national emergency, our commander in chief has stepped up and demanded additional funding for the agency and spoken publicly of his great respect for the USPS and the mail-in voting. Kidding! Instead, hes actually called the post office a joke, and insists that mail-in voting will lead to widespread fraud, thus undermining the legitimacy of the electoral process in a year when millions and millions of us will actually need to use a mail-in ballot.
And the Congress? Well, if they cant come to terms with the administration or the opposition over efforts to extend unemployment benefits to tens of millions of our suffering citizens, why should we expect them to take any action on the USPS?
FYI: for the record, mail-in voter fraud is very rare in the United States. Statistics complied by MIT researcher Charles Reynolds and National Vote at Home Institute and Coalition leader Amber McReynolds, report that in the past 20 years, 250 million mail-in ballots have been cast. Of that number, there have 1,200 suspected cases of fraud and 143 criminal convictions. That means the chances of voter fraud, statistically speaking, are 0.00006. Remember that number the next time you hear a politician attacking mail-in balloting.
USPS officials do have one important piece of advice to voters who wish to use a mail-in ballot for the November general election: request it at least 15 days before the election. Lets repeat that: if you want to vote by mail, get your ballot sooner, not later. Be in touch with your local election officials NOW. Confirm that you are registered to vote. If you want to use the mails for your vote, it is finally up to you as a citizen to make sure that this will happen.
We as voters need to be vigilant and to act wisely and take responsibility for our ballots whether in person or by mail. God knows this may just be the most important election in at least a generation. Get your ballot. Let your voice be heard. Then maybe say a big prayer for the USPS, too. They are going to need all the help, human and divine, that they can get.
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night nor pandemics nor politicians, stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.
Lets hope so.
The Rev. John F. Hudson is senior pastor of the Pilgrim Church, United Church of Christ, in Sherborn (pilgrimsherborn.org). If you have a word or idea youd like defined in a future column or have comments, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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