AU students impacted by changes to USPS through voting and more

USPS head suspended controversial measures in August

AU students impacted by changes to USPS through voting and more
Mailbox in Cincinnati, Sept. 15, 2020.

Across the country, people have experienced delays in receiving mail and packages from the United States Postal Service after a change in operations that has since been reversed, proving a problem for American University students who want to mail in their ballots on time.

Recently appointed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy implemented cost-cutting measures, resulting in USPS delays. The U.S. coronavirus outbreak compounded issues of underfunding as demand increased and revenue to maintain operations decreased. In August, DeJoy suspended his cost-cutting measures until after the Nov. 3 election, but people in various parts of the country continue to face delays.

“I really hope that it turns a corner,” said Arielle Frank, a junior in the School of Public Affairs. “I think that's gonna cause a lot of people to question the validity of the election, which is already happening and that's unfortunate. I think that's an even bigger danger to democracy than is the issue of mail-in voting. An election is only as strong as people believe it to be.”

Issues with mail-in ballots have already ensued. In a USPS audit, published Aug. 31, the Office of Inspector General found that 1.6 million mail pieces were delayed in special and primary elections in various states across the U.S. The audit recognized that the issues stem from a “lack of management oversight and unclear guidance” regarding various responsibilities. 

Frank mailed in her absentee ballots in previous elections from D.C. to Florida, where she’s from. However, Frank said that she never received her ballot mailed through USPS for the Florida primaries on Aug. 18. 

“My dad sent the ballot Aug. 8 with five stamps and it never got here,” Frank said. “Nine days should definitely be enough. It always worked before.”

Frank said that she was disappointed to miss out in an election where her vote could have carried weight in her county and state. Out of concern for the general election, Frank and her father changed their plans to  ship her ballot overnight through FedEx, despite the price.

“We shouldn't have to pour money into this, which is a ridiculous thing,” Frank said. “I shouldn't have to make five phone calls, get on different websites and have my dad pay this money, just so I can do my civic duty.” 

In addition to delays, the partnership with the USPS and election boards is cited as something to be improved for the general election in the Aug. 31 audit

Claire Whitman, a sophomore in the School of International Service, is currently in a rural area three hours north of her home in Boise, Idaho. Whitman was hoping to participate in her school board elections, but was mailed the wrong ballot. 

“They sent me a new ballot, but by the time it got here, the election was the next day and so even if I would have mailed it in, it would have never got in there on time,” Whitman said. 

The USPS has insisted that it can handle a surge of mail-in voting, even launching a new site with information for voters and election officials to improve operations on its respective ends. DeJoy also assured the House Oversight Committee that mail-in ballots will be handled responsibly. 

It is unclear what might happen once the general election comes around, as combined efforts from the USPS, the federal government and election boards are necessary for the success of the influx of mail-in voting.

Besides students who want to vote, delays are also harming demographics, such as small-business owners and those in rural areas.

Abbie Kitariev, a sophomore in SPA and the College of Arts and Sciences, runs a jewelry business called Picnic Under The Sun. She relies on the USPS for shipping, since it is the cheapest option. Kitariev said that in July, her shipments to customers were arriving damaged and delayed. She said that she has lost money due to having to reship products.

“I shipped out 23 pairs of earrings and of those, seven were damaged and two went missing,” Kitariev said. “I shipped out five pairs in August, but three of them came damaged too.”

Whitman has also seen how delays are currently affecting rural populations more dependent on USPS. The implications of delays in the remote area where Whitman and her family live can be significant as there is a heavy reliance on USPS services.

“Neither of the closest towns have a pharmacy, so a lot of people will have that sort of thing delivered,” Whitman said. “Most people in the area are 50 years and up. There's more of a dependency on deliveries for that age group and less willingness to drive far to get things.”

USPS delays remain a concern for people inside and outside of the AU community.

eschloss@theeagleonline.com 

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