Missing mailboxes. Dismantled sorting machines. Mail delays. Our nation’s founders, who included the “postal clause” in the Constitution, would weep; this is the reality of our gutted postal infrastructure.
Both of us have committed our lives to defending the Constitution. In two very different capacities — as the CEO of a leading national veterans organization and the president of the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights coalition — we have worked for a stronger, fairer America. And right now, we are sounding alarms because our democracy is on fire. The administration’s war on the post office to curb mail-in voting is antithetical to who we are — and we have serious questions for U.S. Postmaster Louis DeJoy about what the future holds for this critical service.
Despite DeJoy’s recent statements about the postal service withstanding the surge in mail-in voting, Congress must, in its hearings to hold the administration accountable, get answers and confirm there is an unwavering commitment to ensure the Postal Service can operate at pre-COVID levels through the election and beyond. We must ensure that harmful action already taken will be rectified, and that decommissioned sorting machines and mailboxes, critical for managing increased volume during the election, will be restored. There is no room for debate: we need a functioning Postal Service to keep the wheels of society turning and empower Americans to vote, especially during a pandemic.
The recent attacks on our postal system undermine the public’s confidence for those who choose to vote by mail when they should do so without hesitation. This is true even though America is no stranger to mail-in voting. The U.S. military has been voting by mail since the Civil War, when Union soldiers cast their ballot while serving far from home. Through the years, on bases from Alaska to Hawaii and on every overseas installation, the Department of Defense blankets common areas with posters encouraging service members and their families to request their absentee ballots and vote by mail. As members of the military were fighting for democracy around the world, the government wanted to ensure those on active duty were participating in ours at home.
Moreover, there are specific laws that protect mail-in voting. The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) requires that states and territories allow certain groups of citizens to vote absentee — which happens by mail — in federal elections; this group includes service members, their families, and citizens who are living outside of the U.S. This is a right we will vigorously defend — and already have. For example, in 2015, the state of Illinois had a shortened election period that would have prevented UOCAVA voters from participating. Under Vanita’s leadership, the Department of Justice worked to change the timeline. We will never accept people in uniform not being able to vote because of a time crunch. And we would never accept civilians not being able to vote because of the sabotage of our postal system.
The administration’s assault on the post office is imperiling people’s confidence in voting amid the pandemic. But any service changes will also wreak havoc on the everyday lives of our fellow Americans. Even in the digital age, the post office remains the connective tissue of this country. Its accessibility makes it indispensable, particularly to those living in remote communities, seniors, and people with disabilities who rely on it to deliver daily necessities. It links families in different zip codes, urban to suburban to rural. Its 30,000 locations make it one of the largest, most diverse civilian employers in the nation and one of the largest employers of veterans. And for our service members, it is still the lifeline to home.
In the most extreme cases, gutting the Postal Service would put Americans in danger. Every day, more than 330,000 veterans receive prescriptions in the mail. Dismantling our postal infrastructure truly jeopardizes our veterans’ health, and the health of seniors, people with disabilities, and others who rely on the postal service for access to medication.
Many Americans are outraged by the attacks on the USPS, linked overtly by administration officials to put their thumb on the scale of this election, and are now afraid their ballots won’t be counted if they vote by mail. This is part of the strategy, too. Confusing voters or having voters sit out is a form of voter suppression. But we are not powerless.
First, every person in this nation should internalize that the campaign to kneecap the Postal Service is an attempt to undermine our elections — and it cannot stand. Hold your representatives accountable and demand that they get answers from DeJoy, as well as have Congress immediately vote to allocate $25 billion to support the Postal Service.
Second, as this constitutional crisis continues to unfold, go to vote.org and make sure you have a plan to vote, whether it’s by mail, ballot drop-box, or in person. If you plan to vote by mail, request and return your ballot as soon as you can. Our best defense against nefarious efforts to cripple our election infrastructure is to vote in overwhelming numbers, in the face of any and all challenges.
The Postal Service is in our DNA. It is central to our democracy and is one of the few American institutions that touches all lives. Now we need to band together and take action to make sure it lives.
Jeremy Butler is the CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. He served on active duty with the U.S. Navy from 1999–2005. Vanita Gupta is president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. She is the former head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division under President Obama.