Day of action for US Postal Service reaches Vail area
Demonstration in Edwards one of hundreds to take place across the US
More than a dozen people gathered in Edwards near the U.S. Postal Service office Saturday to demonstrate on behalf of federal mail delivery of election ballots.
The demonstration was one of hundreds to take place across the U.S. on Saturday, and was aimed at supporting vote-by-mail efforts through a nationwide day of action.
In Eagle County, ballot-by-mail voting has been used for local elections for more than a decade. In 2010, amid the decision to use ballot-by-mail for the August primary election, Eagle County Clerk and Recorder Teak Simonton said at that time mail ballots were the preferred method for most voters in Eagle County.
Since then the mail-in option has only become more popular in Eagle County, said Rep. Dylan Roberts, a Democrat who represents Eagle County in the state legislature.
“You still have the option to go vote in person, which I fully believe in as well,” Roberts said. “But it has become a very popular way to vote — either to mail in your ballot or drop it off — and that means we have some of the highest turnout rates in the country, here in Colorado.”
Roberts attended the demonstration Saturday in Edwards, saying in Eagle County — where many workers telecommute, and travel out of the area is high among locals during the October-November offseason — mail-in voting is essential.
“I could not think of a more important place to be right now, on this morning, than right here in front of one of our post offices, standing up for the United States Postal Service,” Roberts said.
Roberts pointed out that when Colorado became a universal mail-in election state in 2013, the measure was signed into law by a Democrat governor and implemented by a Republican secretary of state.
“Universal mail-in elections are a bipartisan issue,” Roberts said. “They benefit both political parties because they mean that everybody has the right to vote, and that voting is easy, safe and accessible.”
Local resident Gail Flesher, who helped organize Saturday’s demonstration, agreed that the rally to support the post office should be a non-partisan effort. But she acknowledged that it has been adopted locally by people she described as “pretty progressive.”
She said the group’s aim was to protect not just the institution of the post office, but help the employees who work there.
“They work hard, they do a good job, and they need our support,” Flesher said.
Visitors to the post office gave honks of approval and rolled down their windows to say encouraging words to Flesher from the cabins of their vehicles as she spoke.
“Everybody knows that we’re in a state of crisis right now,” she said.
The Colorado Secretary of State received a letter from the U.S. Postal Service on July 31 saying there’s a risk that “some ballots will not be returned by mail in time” to be counted.
“Specifically, it appears that a completed ballot must be received by Election Day to be counted,” the letter reads. “If that understanding is correct, we accordingly recommend, as noted above, that voters who choose to mail their ballots do so no later than Tuesday, October 27. However, it further appears that state law generally permits voters to register or change their registration information as late as 8 days before the election, and that election officials thereafter have 2 business days to transmit a ballot to such voters. If a voter registers or changes his or her registration information at or near that deadline, and if the election official then transmits a ballot to the voter by mail, there is a significant risk that the voter will not have sufficient time to complete and mail the completed ballot back to election officials in time for it to arrive by the state’s return deadline.”
Attorney General Phil Weiser described the letter as “jarring,” and said it appeared that the U.S. Postmaster General had been decommissioning equipment and personnel, resulting in delays in USPS service.
Weiser was one of several state attorney generals to join in a lawsuit seeking a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction which would place protections on the post office during the ballot-mailing period.
“We’ll be moving toward that as soon as we can get our arms around the relevant facts,” Weiser said in an interview with KOA NewsRadio on Thursday. “And then we believe a court is going to be able to oversee the postal service, so we don’t only have empty commitments, but enforceable ones, to protect people and the right to vote.”
Neguse bill passes House
Civil rights groups also joined the state attorney generals in condemning the postal service’s decommissioning efforts.
“Not surprisingly, right after we brought this suit, the postmaster general made some statements like they were going to back down,” Weiser said, in reference to a statement issued by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on Tuesday.
“I came to the Postal Service to make changes to secure the success of this organization and its long-term sustainability,” DeJoy wrote in the statement. “I believe significant reforms are essential to that objective, and work toward those reforms will commence after the election.”
Weiser, in the KOA interview on Thursday, said the statement was not enough for him.
“The problem is, we don’t know if that’s binding or not,” Weiser said. “We also don’t know if the stuff that has already happened has been remedied or not.”
On Friday, USPS published a fact sheet, saying the postal service’s removal of blue boxes and letter sorting machines began years ago.
“Over the past 10 years, over 30,000 collection boxes have been removed from around the country,” according to the fact sheet. “The Postal Service has always evaluated use of its equipment. Resources match volume requirements.”
The fact sheet also says DeJoy has given the directive to stop the removal of additional mail processing machines through the election.
DeJoy testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee on Friday.
“There was a slowdown in the mail when our production did not meet the schedule,” he acknowledged. “But also, our employees are experiencing the Covid pandemic also and we have a significant issue in employee availability in many, many parts of the country that are leading to delays in delivering the mail.”
On Saturday, the U.S. House of Representatives met in an emergency legislative session, passing a $25 billion relief proposal which was proposed by Rep. Joe Neguse, a Democrat who represents the Vail area in the U.S. House of Representatives. Neguse presided over the vote on Saturday.
While the proposal passed the house easily, even receiving some Republican support, it is not expected to reach the President’s desk for approval, as the White House threatened to veto the bill on Friday.
On Saturday, Roberts encouraged the Senate to pass the bill nonetheless.
“I call on our members of Congress, our Congressmen, our Senators, and President Trump to stop playing political games with the post office, and let’s make the United States Postal Service the service that it was intended to be, for all American citizens, regardless of your political party, regardless of whether there’s an election going on or not,” Roberts said.