SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Next week, eight states and the District of Columbia will hold primary elections. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, voters are expected to cast their ballots by mail in record numbers. And that's likely a preview of what may come in the fall. And some worry whether the U.S. Postal Service is up to the challenge. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.
BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: A lot of people like the post office. They remember waiting in the lobby and gawking at the FBI's 10 most wanted list while their dad picked up some stamps or waiting for the latest DVD from Netflix to come in the mail, maybe "The Postman Always Rings Twice." According to a recent Pew poll, 91% of Americans had a positive view of the post office, higher than any other branch of government. But it's an agency with some big problems. To start, President Trump has called it a joke, demanded it raise its rates and tweeted that mail-in ballots will be substantially fraudulent and that mailboxes will be robbed. It's a false assertion, says Tammy Patrick of the Democracy Fund. And she says voters need options like voting by mail during this pandemic.
TAMMY PATRICK: For many, many people, this year, it's going to be to get their ballot delivered to them by the United States Postal Service. Now, calling that into question, saying that people will be taking mail out of mailboxes, that's just not going to happen.
NAYLOR: The Postal Service has had some issues with mail-in voting lately. In Wisconsin last month, three tubs of ballots were discovered never having reached voters. Earlier this month in Ohio, hundreds of ballots that were postmarked on time were delivered too late to be counted. But Patrick says not all the blame should fall on the post office.
PATRICK: In Ohio, you could request a ballot to be mailed to you on Saturday up until noon for Tuesday's election. Now, mail delivery is two to five business days, so some of the policies, some of the practices that we have in place are really not voter-centric. They're not setting up the voters to succeed but rather to fail.
NAYLOR: The Postal Service's financial woes pose another concern. It ran an $8.8 billion deficit last fiscal year. Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, says the Postal Service may run out of cash by early fall without an infusion of funding from Congress, which the Trump administration opposes.
MARK DIMONDSTEIN: If the post office is allowed to run out of money without relief and all postal operations become in jeopardy, and that would include tremendous access to the ballot box and not just the ballot box but voter information.
NAYLOR: The Postal Service will soon be under new management. Louis DeJoy, a businessman and high-dollar donor to Republicans, including the president, was named the new postmaster general. He takes office next month. The deputy postmaster, Ronald Stroman, the agency's highest ranking African American, is also leaving next month. Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights Under Law, is concerned about the leadership turnover at a time when the Postal Service is playing a key role.
KRISTEN CLARKE: We're in a crisis moment in the country right now that really demands that we respond to the crisis and that we do all that we can to ensure that no voter is locked out of the ballot box because of the pandemic.
NAYLOR: Trump's opposition to voting by mail and the possibility of disruptions in the Postal Service raise questions about how well voting by mail will function this year. Clarke says the nation needs a functional Postal Service to ensure all Americans have access to ballots, especially now. Brian Naylor, NPR News.
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