County auditors in Iowa found out on Aug. 20 they are not allowed to set up absentee ballot drop boxes in their communities ahead of the Nov. 3 election, despite having utilized them in past elections. The next day, when asked about the concerns of county auditors and controversial changes to the U.S. Postal Service, Sen. Joni Ernst stated the service was funded for the year and didn’t acknowledge some of the wider concerns when it comes to mail delays and efforts by the president to undermine absentee voting.
Despite protests in Iowa urging federal lawmakers to approve emergency funding for USPS, Ernst has been silent on the issue until asked about it Aug. 21 by the Dubuque Telegraph Herald.
“The post office right now, there’s a little bit of concern out there right now because — they are in the black and they do have enough cash-on-hand, they have said, to get through 2021,” Ernst said. “So, we’re not certain — I don’t know that it’s necessarily a cash issue, but more of a timeline issue, turnaround time for people to mail ballots, get them through the postal service to that individual and then back into the county auditors for counting.”
The USPS Board of Governors has requested $25 billion in emergency funding to help offset the financial losses it has experienced due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Postal Service has not received financial assistance during the pandemic, despite the immense losses it has suffered due to a decline in mail this year. The Postal Service’s financial struggles are compounded by a 2006 law requiring it to pre-fund retirees’ pension and health benefits 75 years in advance.
The House of Representatives on Saturday passed the Delivering for America Act to provide the $25 billion in aid and prohibit operational changes championed by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will not take up a standalone bill for Postal Service funding, accusing Democrats of spinning “overblown conspiracy theories.”
House Democrats have spent weeks ignoring the urgent needs of American workers and families, but they rushed back to Washington the instant that overblown conspiracy theories about the U.S. Postal Service convinced them their own jobs might be in jeopardy. My full statement: pic.twitter.com/41VdckTLw0
— Leader McConnell (@senatemajldr) August 22, 2020
“Right now, until we can come to a consensus on postal funding, is just go ahead and request your ballot early and make sure you’re mailing it back on time as well,” Ernst told the Telegraph Herald.
In March, President Trump torpedoed a bipartisan bill to provide the agency $13 billion in aid. And in April, he called the Postal Service a “joke” and said he would not approve fiscal relief unless it raised package prices four or five times above current rates. Senate Republicans’ latest coronavirus relief proposal did not include USPS funding and the two parties have yet to come to an agreement on whether another bipartisan coronavirus bill will make it through Congress.
Postal workers and union leadership are confident they can handle an increased volume of absentee ballots in the mail system this year, but they have said they need the emergency funding to continue to deliver the nation’s mail safely and quickly. In addition to financial setbacks spurred by the pandemic, the postmaster has implemented changes to prohibit employees from working overtime, dismantled mail sorting machines and closed processing centers, resulting in mail delays. Iowa Congresswoman Cindy Axne recently called for DeJoy’s resignation.
On Aug. 18, Gov. Kim Reynolds denied Attorney General Tom Miller’s request to join a multi-state lawsuit seeking to halt service and policy changes at the Postal Service. Two days later, on a conference call with county auditors, a lawyer for the Secretary of State’s Office informed the election officials they can’t set up absentee ballot drop boxes in their communities, even though the boxes have been used in previous elections. Some auditors have indicated they will continue to use the secure drop boxes despite the state’s directive.
By Elizabeth Meyer
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