Timeline: All the Ways Trump Is Trying to Make It Harder to Vote by Mail in PA

FILE - In this May 28, 2020, file photo, mail-in primary election ballots are processed at the Chester County Voter Services office in West Chester, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

By Jenna Fletcher

August 21, 2020

Pennsylvania is taking a stand against President Donald Trump’s attempts to undermine voting by mail.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced this week that the state is leading a multi-state coalition fighting against the nationwide changes to the operating of the U.S. Post Office, which has led to the mail delivery delays. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson is spearheading a second lawsuit.

Pennsylvania’s lawsuit, filed Friday, states the Postal Service unlawfully enacted widespread changes to mail service across the country. “These changes—which include prohibiting late or extra trips by postal workers that are often necessary to keep the mail moving forward in the mailstream; requiring carriers to adhere rigidly to start and stop times regardless of whether all mail for their route has arrived or been delivered; and limiting the use of overtime—were made without due regard to their likely impact on mail service and in violation of the procedural requirements of the Postal Reorganization Act,” the complaint states.

The plaintiffs in the suit also argue: “The service delays caused by Postal Service’s implementation of sweeping new policies in the midst of a pandemic may disenfranchise voters because their ballots will not be sent or received in time and may deter people from voting because they do not trust that their ballot will be delivered.”

The suit—which, in addition to Shaprio, represents attorneys general in California, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Washington, D.C.—aims to reverse the agency’s actions, and guarantee safeguards and standards for election mail.

“We are putting the Administration on notice: immediately roll back these operational changes at the US Postal Service and allow postal workers carry out their vital mission without interference — or lose to us in court,” Attorney General Shapiro told the press on Tuesday. 

The lawsuit is Pennsylvania’s latest defense against a number of Republican attempts to make voting by mail more difficult. As a key battleground state in the election, making sure all votes in Pennsylvania are properly counted is key.

Last year, state lawmakers passed Act 77, which expanded mail-in ballot options to let anyone who wanted to vote by mail do so even if they did not have a reason they could not vote in person. During the June primary, nearly 1.5 million Pennsylvanians voted by mail due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic. That number is expected to rise for the November election. 

The summer has been fraught with uncertainty surrounding voting by mail in Pennsylvania during the coronavirus pandemic. Here’s a quick recap:

May

Louis DeJoy, a major donor to the Trump campaign, was appointed as Postmaster General. Since taking the position, he has installed a number of changes to the USPS that have slowed down mail delivery, including discontinuing overtime for postal service employees and removing mail sorting machines. 

Both of these policies have since caused a backlog in the mail service that could greatly affect the upcoming election.

Residents in Philadelphia and nearby neighborhoods have reported delays in receiving their mail as long as three weeks.

A USPS mail truck delivering mail in Berks County. Image via Shutterstock

June

President Trump’s re-election campaign, the national Republican Party, and Republican U.S. Reps. Glenn Thompson, John Joyce, Mike Kelly, and Guy Reschenthaler sued to force changes to how Pennsylvania election officials collect and count mail-in ballots under the new rules.

The plaintiffs hope to prohibit counting ballots that don’t have secrecy envelopes or those that have certain marks on them. They also want the counting of all mail-in ballots to be observed.

The lawsuit claims the hurried use of mail-in voting during the primary gives “fraudsters an easy opportunity to engage in ballot harvesting, manipulate or destroy ballots, manufacture duplicitous votes, and sow chaos.” It disputes the collection procedures of mail-in ballots in about 20 counties that allowed voters to drop off completed ballots at collection sites without sending them or handing them directly to county elections offices.

This contactless form of voting is key in giving Pennsylvanians the opportunity to vote while safely adhering to social distancing protocols.

July

In a letter dated July 29 from the general counsel of the U.S. Postal Service, Thomas Marshall warned that Pennsylvania’s mail-in ballot deadlines are “incongruous” with the postal service’s delivery standards and urged voters to mail in their ballots a week before the deadline to ensure they are counted.

In response to the letter, Gov. Tom Wolf appeared in front of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court asking the court to extend the deadline to receive eligible ballots to Friday, Nov. 6.

August

The federal court handling the lawsuit regarding drop boxes for mail-in ballot returns asked the Trump campaign to provide evidence to support its claims of fraud. According to The Intercept, the campaign “documented only a handful of cases of election fraud in recent years — none of which involved mail-in ballots.”

On Friday—the same day Attorney General Shapiro’s office filed its lawsuit—Postmaster General DeJoy appeared before the U.S. Senate to testify publicly for the first time about his agency’s recent changes. He acknowledged the slowdown of mail service, declared that election mail would be prioritized for delivery as it has been in the past, but added that he has no plans to restore curbside collection boxes and sorting equipment that have already been removed.

DeJoy said that was his “No. 1 priority between now and Election Day.”

“I think the American people should be able to vote by mail,” DeJoy testified. He did not, however, offer senators a plan for how he will ensure on-time election mail delivery.

Why are Republicans attacking voting by mail?

President Trump has been vocal about his distrust of voting by mail for some time, misleading Americans by suggesting it’s not safe. Those claims have been debunked time and time again.

A poll conducted by Pew Research Center shows voter preferences on how to vote this year are radically different between Trump and Biden supporters. Eighty percent of voters who support Trump prefer to vote in person in the presidential election while only 17% prefer to vote by mail. Meanwhile, 58% of voters who support Biden prefer to vote by mail in the presidential election.

The same poll shows 53% of registered voters support or lean towards supporting Biden versus only 45% of voters that support or lean towards supporting Trump.

Brendan Welch, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, recently told Reuters: “[Republicans] know the easier it is for everyday people to vote, the more likely it is that they will lose.” 

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CATEGORIES: VOTING

Politics

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