NM senators challenge postmaster general

By:  Rick Nathanson

New Mexico Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich on Thursday joined other Senate Democrats in signing a letter to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy expressing concern about policy changes they say are causing mail delivery delays and that will make it more difficult and more expensive for citizens to vote by mail.

New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, president of the National Association of Secretaries of State, in an Aug. 7 letter to DeJoy, expressed some of the same concerns, and requested that DeJoy meet with her and other officials who run state elections.

DeJoy has cut overtime for U.S. Postal Service workers and removed mail sorting machines from post offices around the country, including New Mexico, triggering criticism this week from the local postal workers union.

DeJoy is also planning to raise the cost of election mail to First Class rates.

Regardless of any problems that the Postal Service might experience, Bernalillo County Clerk Linda Stover said Friday that polling places will be prepared and secure.

The letter from Senate Democrats to DeJoy reads in part, “Since you assumed the role of Postmaster General, there have been disturbing reports regarding changes at USPS that are causing significant delays in the delivery of mail. Under normal circumstances, delayed mail is a major problem – during a pandemic in the middle of a presidential election, it is catastrophic.”

The letter also noted that it has been the practice of the Postal Service to automatically treat all election mail as First Class, regardless of the paid class of service, and to provide the standard two-to-five-day First Class delivery window.

State election officials have recently been informed by the Postal Service that election mail will no longer automatically be regarded as First Class, the senators’ letter said. This will cause “further delays to election mail that will disenfranchise voters and put significant financial pressure on election jurisdictions.”

The senators posed a series of questions regarding the recent changes and asked that DeJoy commit to past practices. They asked for copies of “any letters or guidance sent to state or local election officials regarding the service standards that will be applied to election mail.”

The postmaster general was asked to respond no later than Aug. 25.

Last week, DeJoy publicly said the Postal Service has “ample capacity to deliver all election mail securely and on time.”

President Donald Trump has, however, since contradicted that assertion. During a Thursday interview on the Fox Business Network, the president freely admitted that the stalled stimulus relief bill was also starving the Postal Service of money, making it more difficult for them to process the expected surge of mail-in ballots.

Trump continued making the false claim that Democrats are pushing for universal mail-in voting.

“If we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money,” Trump said on the Fox interview. “That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting; they just can’t have it.”

U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., on Friday issued a statement saying the president was waging “an assault on our democracy” and “threatening the integrity of November’s election.”

He called on congressional Republicans and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to “immediately stand up to the President and fund the Postal Service to protect the right to vote for New Mexicans and Americans across the country.”

Bernalillo County Clerk Stover said Postal Service officials in Albuquerque were “extremely cooperative and easy to work with during the primary,” and her office is well prepared for the general election.

“I’m going to make sure that there are drop boxes for ballots at all 16 early voting sites and 71 sites on Election Day,” Stover said. “All drop boxes will be secure, locked and under the watchful eye of a poll worker at all times.”

She said she was also hoping to press the county’s mobile voting unit into service, moving it to different sites around the county during early voting. “You won’t be able to vote there, nor will there be any voter information. It would strictly be a drop-off spot.”