USPS Issues Post-Election Report

In a perhaps unusual move, the Postal Service released a report in late December reviewing the 2020 election and its role in the vote-by-mail process.  Posted on its Link site on December 30, 2020, the 22-page document, Post-Election Analysis: Delivering the Nation’s Election Mail in an Extraordinary Year, summarizes the agency’s actions in support of the election process.

The report detailed its performance at the national level:

“We delivered 99.89 percent of ballots within seven days, consistent with the guidance we provided voters throughout the election cycle, and delivered 97.9 percent of ballots from voters to election officials within three days.  Overall, on average, we delivered ballots to voters in 2.1 days.  Most importantly, on average, we delivered ballots from voters to election officials in just 1.6 days.”

It also described the exceptional measures the agency took to be sure ballots were handled expeditiously:

“In the days before the election, our letter carriers took the unprecedented step of checking every mailbox on every street throughout the nation for ballots being sent to election officials – regardless of whether we were delivering mail to a particular customer.  Leaving no stone unturned, we additionally took the extraordinary step of collecting and processing mail on the Sunday before election day.  And, where we identified ballots that were at risk of not arriving on time, we engaged in additional steps such as utilizing our Priority Mail Express network, at no additional cost to the customer; bypassing our processing network entirely to accelerate local delivery of ballots; and making additional deliveries and special trips to help ensure that ballots arrived on time to be counted.”

The gorilla

The most extraordinary element of the already bizarre 2020 election season was the hyperpolitical anxiety over the role of the Postal Service as the savior or curse of the democratic process, depending on who was speaking.

Given how the politicization of the USPS was embodied by Louis DeJoy, who was (and still is) assumed by some to be the president’s point man for skewing the election and ruining the USPS, it’s interesting that the Analysis devotes a chapter to “The Changing Political Landscape.” (Excerpt begins on pg. 12)  As the document describes the situation:

“As the Postal Service was in the process of responding to the pandemic and preparing for the increased demand in mail-in voting, it was hit with a second disruptive event: a rapid change in the political landscape that unexpectedly thrust the Postal Service, a fundamentally nonpartisan institution, into the political and media spotlight. ...

“Although the Postal Service maintained that it remained ready and able to safely and securely deliver whatever amount of election mail policymakers chose to employ in administering the 2020 election, it also has no control over the extent to which elections should rely on mail-in voting and took no position on the matter.  Nevertheless, the Postal Service found itself in the middle of an increasingly heated partisan tug-of-war.

“This dispute over the Postal Service and mail-in voting only intensified when Louis DeJoy took office on June 15, 2020, as the Postal Service’s 75th Postmaster General.  Because Mr. DeJoy had previously contributed to Republican Party candidates, some jumped to the conclusion that he must have been appointed to effectuate the Administration’s opposition to expanded mail-in voting or to somehow undermine mail-in voting for the 2020 Election – even though (1) the Postal Service has no control over the extent to which mail-in voting features in the electoral process, and (2) Mr. DeJoy had been appointed not by the President but by the unanimous vote of the Postal Service’s bipartisan Board of Governors.

“Suddenly, seemingly everything concerning the Postal Service was viewed through a partisan lens.  Routine business decisions – such as the removal or relocation of sorting machines and collection boxes – were perceived as part of an effort to make voting by mail more difficult or less efficient, ignoring the fact that these decisions were made pursuant to processes that were in place long before Mr. DeJoy’s arrival, were consistent with decisions in prior years to ensure the postal network remains fluid and responsive to changes in volume and density (including substantial declines in mail volume), and were implemented months before the upcoming election.

“Mr. DeJoy’s directive that the Postal Service adhere to its established transportation schedule – a schedule that long predated his tenure – was also viewed as an effort to intentionally degrade mail service, even though the directive was consistent with long-standing efforts to increase operational efficiency and improve service, and in fact was consistent with a report by the Postal Service’s Inspector General that transportation-schedule delays were forcing the Postal Service to incur needless costs.

“The Postal Service was accused, inaccurately, of banning overtime and cutting back hours in post offices.  Even the letters to election officials that the General Counsel wrote in May and July were perceived not as offering common-sense guidance on how the mail works or as identifying persistent structural inconsistencies between state election deadlines and longstanding Postal Service delivery standards, but as some kind of warning that the Postal Service was planning to slow down mail delivery for the election several months later. ...”

The document continued by listing the actions taken by the Postal Service to respond to circumstances both factual and alleged, and to note that its handling of ballots included a variety of exceptional steps to ensure that no ballot was left undelivered or uncounted because of a postal shortcoming.

Self-assessment

In the end, the document concluded that the USPS did a good job and praised the efforts of employees accordingly.

In one sense, it’s good to have the agency issue a statement that comprehensively reviews the events and circumstances in the months leading up to and including the election.  It’s also good that the usually silent Postal Service produced anything presenting its story and analysis.  Perhaps it’s learning to speak for itself instead of letting others do the talking.

Of course, by being a self-analysis, the document is unavoidably susceptible to criticism as self-congratulatory and designed to frame the agency and its actions in a positive light.  If the same report had been produced by the Office of Inspector General, for example, or even by an objective media outlet (if one exists), that might have removed any basis for such criticism.

On balance, and after saying so little for so long, it’s better for the agency to tell its own story (and risk criticism for being self-serving) than to say nothing and let the past months’ anonymous spokespersons and volumes of misinformation stand unchallenged.

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