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Warner Questions USPS Over Possible Election Mail Slowdown

Mark Warner speaking hands out by his sides
Mark Warner in 2012 (Craig Carper/VPM News)

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) said on Wednesday that recent changes in the U.S. Postal Service “smells more than a little bit fishy” and could present obstacles to a smooth election day. 

His comments come as the agency’s new postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, came under fire from Democrats and voting rights groups for slashing overtime costs and instituting a sudden reorganization of the agency’s management team.

DeJoy, a major donor and fundraiser for President Donald Trump, said the measure will promote cost-cutting measures in an agency that lost $9 billion last year.

Speaking at a roundtable hosted by Warner in Arlington, a senior postal official confirmed another change on Wednesday. Justin Glass, director of the postal service's election mail operations, said the agency will not prioritize mail-in ballots for delivery unless states pay for first-class postage in what voting rights groups describe as a change from past policy.

The policy is unlikely to affect Virginia; a spokesperson for the Department of Elections said to the best of their knowledge, all localities in the commonwealth already use first class mail to send ballots. Virginia ballots will also be marked with a special logo to single it out for local post offices.

Warner, who is running for re-election this year against Republican Daniel Gade, questioned the insistence on first class mail. That category of mail is delivered in 2-5 days rather than 3-10 days for cheaper, “marketing” rate bulk mail.

Warner connected the policy and other changes to rhetoric from Trump questioning the reliability of USPS and mail-in voting.

“There are a number of us who are very concerned about what appears to be reorganization at the top when you’re 85 days away from maybe the most important event in the postal service’s modern history,” Warner said. 

Glass said the special logo Virginia will use would not necessarily result in faster delivery, though another postal service representative said it would influence how the mail was routed and stored.

“We can’t arbitrarily take non-profit rate and make it first class,” Glass said. “We have to give the service in which that piece has been paid for.”

Glass urged voters to request ballots no later than 15 days out from election day and to send them no later than a week before November 3.

While most states use first class mail to send ballots, a handful of Western states with high rates of vote by mail use the cheaper bulk rates, according to Tammy Patrick, a senior advisor at the Democracy Fund, a national foundation focused on elections.

“In the past, USPS moved mountains to get ballots delivered,” Patrick said. 

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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