USA

Fact check: Voters should request ballots 2 weeks early, but mail isn't intentionally slow

The claim: President Trump is intentionally slowing USPS deliveries to undermine mail-in voting, and mailed ballots need two weeks

Election Day is less than 90 days away, and the COVID-19 pandemic has no end in sight. As many gear up to vote by mail, some fear the United States Postal Service won’t be able to handle the volume of mailed ballots – or that political interference at the agency might play a role.

A viral Instagram post says USPS told Americans to allow ballots "14 days round trip," making Election Day for mail-in voters Oct. 20 — not Nov. 3. “Trump & cronies are intentionally slowing USPS deliveries to undermine mail in voting,” the Instagram post from @nobodyssweetheart reads.

The claim is echoed across social media, with some users accusing President Donald Trump of having USPS slow its deliveries, and others implicating the new USPS postmaster general.

"Mail delivery is slower now than at the peak of COVID in April," user @nobodyssweetheart told USA TODAY. "Search the #saveUSPS tag for primary sources from the Washington Post and other major papers."

"So there's a pretty large conversation on Twitter about it – a lot of people whom are close with USPS workers are revealing info about the demands to slow down the mail," user @cupofrahman said. "It seems pretty factual at this point given so many people are coming forth claiming it's true."

The same claim has gone viral on Twitter, too, after CBS Morning anchor Tony Dokoupil shared an experiment the network did regarding vote-by-mail efficacy. What it found from sending out 200 mock ballots, staggered in two rounds with 100 ballots each, is that 97 of the 100 ballots in the first round arrived within a week, meaning 3% of those ballots did not. As for the second round, 21% had not arrived 4 days after mailing.

More: What can shake things up in the election home stretch? Here are 5 possibilities

USPS says it won’t slow down mail despite contradicting reports

Fears that USPS intends to slow down mail delivery – either independently or for political reasons – sprouted from the appointment in May of Louis DeJoy  as postmaster general.

According to internal documents obtained by The Washington Post, DeJoy told USPS employees that if mail delayed letter carriers from their routes, it should be left behind at distribution centers. Typically, postal workers are told to make multiple delivery trips to ensure timely delivery, according to the Post.

Watchdog: Mail-in voting results will take time

Critics quoted by Fortune speculate this move will inherently slow down deliveries, leading to a loss in revenue.

A USPS spokeswoman said that isn't the case.

“We are not slowing down election mail or any other mail,” Marti Johnson with USPS told USA TODAY. “Instead, we continue to employ a robust and proven process to ensure proper handling of all election mail consistent with our standards.”

Related: Union warns of U.S. Postal Service cost cuts as states prepare for mail-in voting

Trump's connection, criticisms

Prior to his USPS appointment, DeJoy was a fundraiser for the Republican National Convention in North Carolina and a major pro-Trump donor. He has given about $360,000 to Trump Victory, a super PAC supporting Trump’s re-election, according to federal filings.

This connection has led to the speculation on social media that Trump is ordering the slowdown. His administration says that's false. 

“The notion that President Trump asked the United States Postal Service to slow down its deliveries to millions of Americans across the country is baseless and absurd," said White House deputy press secretary Sarah Matthews. "What the president is doing is demanding much needed and long overdue change to bring efficiency, accountability, and fiscal responsibility to the USPS. These changes will save the USPS approximately $200 million dollars a year.” 

The Postal Service has been attacked by Trump, and his administration withheld pandemic aid from the agency.

In April, Trump called the USPS “a joke” and vowed to block financial aid unless it raised prices on packages “by approximately four times,” the Washington Post reported. Critics say that move would cause the USPS to lose business.

“This is about as catastrophically stupid an idea that anyone could ever imagine,” Mark Cohen, director of retail studies at Columbia University Business School, told the Post. “As if anyone from Amazon to the local mom-and-pop delivery businesses would ever put up with a rate increase like that when they have alternatives.”

Part of Trump’s request may have to do with his longtime feud with Amazon, which has had a partnership with the USPS since 2013.

More: Tech CEOs from Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook grilled by Congress on competition

“I am right about Amazon costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their Delivery Boy. Amazon should pay these costs (plus) and not have them bourne (sic) by the American Taxpayer. Many billions of dollars. P.O. leaders don’t have a clue (or do they?)!” Trump tweeted in 2018.

The USPS became eligible for a $10 billion loan from the U.S. Treasury via the CARES Act, which was passed in March. Due to a number of stipulations put in place by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, including a postal reform program and the recruitment of new leadership, that money hadn’t been made available to the USPS. It and the Treasury finally reached an agreement in principle on aid on July 29.

Trump also has been vocal about his disapproval of mail-in voting, which USPS facilitates, even suggesting the 2020 election should be delayed due to its potential shortfalls – adding to voters' fears of disenfranchisement. (Because the date of the presidential election is set by federal law, a delay would be Congress' decision to make, not Trump's).

More: Trump floats delaying election over mail-in voting, legal experts say that power rests with Congress

"With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???" Trump tweeted July 30.

Johnson, the USPS spokeswoman, said the Postal Service takes its role in elections seriously.

“The United States Postal Service is fully committed to fulfilling our role in the electoral process when public policy makers choose to utilize us as a part of their election system, and to delivering Election Mail in a timely manner consistent with our operational standards,” she told USA TODAY. 

Financial challenges at USPS

The USPS’s financial woes were not brought on by the pandemic, though that has exacerbated them.

In 2006, the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act was passed, requiring the Postal Service to put money aside for future retiree health benefits. The law had a 50-year schedule, and for the first 10 years, USPS was supposed to save $5 billion.

Earlier: Fact check: US Postal Service will not close in June

In 2012, the Postal Service started defaulting on the payments; without doing that, USPS said it wouldn’t be able to pay its employees, suppliers or deliver the mail. Since 2006, the USPS has seen rising net losses in revenue for over a decade.

So a less insidious reason DeJoy may have introduced new mail rules is a need to cut costs. A 2020 USPS audit found USPS spent $1.1 billion in mail processing overtime and penalty overtime; DeJoy’s new rules cut overtime.

Timeline for mail-in ballot depends on state

While the USPS said mail won’t be slowed down, it also said it’s true that voters should request their ballots at least 15 days prior to Election Day, though some states have different deadlines.

More: Republicans run into a Donald Trump problem as they push mail voting

Voters must use first-class mail or another expedited service to return their ballots. The Postal Service recommends that domestic, nonmilitary voters mail completed ballots back to election officials at least one week prior to their state’s due date, Johnson said.

View your state’s voting information here.

Our rating: Partly false

The claim that President Donald Trump is intentionally slowing USPS deliveries to undermine mail-in voting and that USPS says voters should allow 14 days for mailed ballots is PARTLY FALSE, because some of it was not supported by our research. It’s true that USPS says voters should request their ballots at least 15 days prior to Election Day, though some states have different deadlines. But it is false to say mail is intentionally being slowed, despite reports that a new USPS system might inherently cause delays. The Trump administration said the president did not direct USPS to slow down its deliveries, and USA TODAY found no evidence of that claim being true either.

Our fact-check sources:

  • CBS This Morning, July 24, "Vote-by-mail experiment reveals potential problems within postal voting system ahead of November election"
  • Washington Post, July 14, "Postal Service memos detail ‘difficult’ changes, including slower mail delivery"
  • Fortune, July 24, "Trump-backed postmaster general plans to slow mail delivery"
  • Federal Election Commission, "Louis DeJoy"
  • Washington Post, April 24, "Trump says he will block coronavirus aid for U.S. Postal Service if it doesn’t hike prices immediately"
  • Vox, April 2018, "Donald Trump’s Twitter feud with Amazon, explained"
  • New York Times, Nov. 11, 2013, "Postal Service to Make Sunday Deliveries for Amazon"
  • President Donald Trump tweet, April 3, 2018
  • CARES Act
  • Business Insider, April 24, "Trump vows to 'never let our Post Office fail' hours after threatening to let it die unless it hikes Amazon rates"
  • U.S. Postal Service Press Release, July 29, 2020
  • U.S. Postal Service Second Quarter Fiscal 2020 Results
  • Congressional Research Service, "The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act: Overview and Issues for Congress"
  • PolitiFact, April 15, "Widespread Facebook post blames 2006 law for US Postal Service’s financial woes"
  • U.S. Postal Service, "USPS Delivers the Facts"
  • PBS "NewsHour," Nov. 14, 2017, "U.S. Postal Service marks 11 straight years of financial loss"
  • 2020 USPS Audit
  • Vote.org, "Voting & COVID-19"
  • Marti Johnson, spokesperson for USPS
  • Sarah Matthews, White House deputy press secretary
  • USA TODAY, "Fact check: US Postal Service will not close in June"

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