Postmaster General urges U.S. voters using mail to request, submit ballots early
Louis DeJoy admits that Trump's frequent predictions of mail voting problems are 'not helpful'
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is warning that voters in the United States should request mail-in ballots at least 15 days before the Nov. 3 election to ensure they have enough time to receive their ballot, complete it and mail it back to elections officials on time.
Acknowledging an expected surge in mail-in ballots because of the coronavirus pandemic, DeJoy said voters should mail back their ballots at least seven days prior to the election.
His advice "should in no way be misconstrued to imply that we lack confidence in our ability to deliver those ballots," DeJoy told a House oversight committee panel on Monday. "We can, and will, handle the volume of Election Mail we receive."
Because of the decentralized nature of U.S. elections, there is significant variance across states in who can vote by mail, as well as the relevant timelines for when received ballots are still valid.
In addition, military members at installations around the world frequently mail in their ballots.
The hearing occurred two days after the House approved legislation in a rare Saturday session to reverse the changes in U.S. Postal Services operations and send $25 billion US to shore up the agency ahead of the November election, when a surge in mail-in ballots is expected.
DeJoy, a political ally of President Donald Trump, said he would not restore the cuts to mailboxes and sorting equipment that have already been made. He could not provide senators with a plan for handling the ballot crush for the election.
DeJoy testified Friday in the Senate that his "No. 1 priority" is to ensure election mail arrives on time.
Board chair unaware of issues at DeJoy firms
Trump has continually made unsubstantiated allegations that a significant rise in mail voting due to the pandemic will lead to the possibility of fraud.
DeJoy said that while he has not spoken to the Trump campaign, he has let it be known that the president's attacks on mail-in ballots are "not helpful."
DeJoy, 63, previously owned a logistics business that was a longtime Postal Service contractor. He maintains significant financial stakes in companies that do business or compete with the agency, raising conflict of interest questions.
The Postal Service has said DeJoy has made all required financial disclosures but that he might have to divest some holdings if conflicts arise.
USPS Board chair Robert Duncan defended DeJoy's selection to the top job in testimony Monday but Massachusetts Democrat Ayanna Pressley got Duncan to admit that the vetting process did not include an assessment of a series of of legal actions DeJoy's former companies faced.
In one case, a jury in 2013 awarded $1.5 million to New Breed Logistics employees over a series of sexual harassment cases and, in a separate complaint in the 1990s, the National Labour Relations Board announced a finding of "anti-union animus" for the company.
Duncan said he was unaware of those cases.
"In my opinion, the only thing you should be delivering is your resignation," Pressley said to DeJoy.
Dozens dead from coronavirus
The U.S. Postal Service has seen thousands take ill from the coronavirus, and DeJoy said the latest figures indicate 83 employees have died from COVID-19.
Since DeJoy took over in May, there have been allegations by employees that overtime requests have been severely curtailed. DeJoy has testified before both the Senate and now the House that there was no specific edict from leadership regarding the limiting of overtime hours.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the chair of the oversight committee and author of the House bill, said DeJoy was using the Postal Service's longstanding fiscal problems as an excuse "to justify sweeping and damaging changes" to operations.
Delays have occurred in first-class and marketing mail, periodicals and Priority Mail, the agency said in an Aug. 12 briefing prepared by Postal Service staff for DeJoy.
DeJoy acknowledged the issue, saying he was "very concerned in deterioration in service" and that the service was "working very diligently" to limit delays.
Maloney threatened to issue DeJoy a subpoena if document requests from her committee later this week were not addressed.
But Republicans consistently got DeJoy to testify that there was plenty of money in the agency's coffers well past the election date, contrasting Democratic portrayals of funding concerns.
Millions donated to Republicans, Trump
The session got heated on a few occasions. DeJoy refused requests by Democrats to restore mail-sorting machines or mailboxes removed from service as part of sweeping operational changes at the Postal Service, despite complaints that the changes are causing lasting damage and widespread delays.
"What the heck are you doing?" Massachusetts Democrat Stephen Lynch asked DeJoy. Either through "gross incompetence" or "on purpose," Lynch said DeJoy is "deliberately dismantling this once-proud institution."
WATCH l DeJoy spars on Aug. 21 with Democrat senator over basis for changes:
DeJoy denied any wrongdoing and accused Lynch and other Democrats of spreading misinformation, as did several Republicans on the panel. As with last week's Senate session, he testified that any removal of machines was characteristic of actions taken each and every year in order to find efficiencies.
Tennessee Democrat Jim Cooper, meanwhile, painted DeJoy as a partisan figure and pointed to the fact that he once chaired a Republican National Committee finance panel with Michael Cohen and Elliott Broidy, who've each pleaded guilty to felonies.
The postmaster said he resented the implication.
South Carolina Republican Ralph Norman apologized to DeJoy: "You're getting a berating up here."
But DeJoy admitted to Vermont Democrat Peter Welch that he has donated more than $3 million to Republican causes and candidates in recent years, including over $1 million to Trump re-election efforts.
At another point California Democrat Katie Porter fired off a round of quick, seemingly basic questions — How much to does it cost to mail a postcard? How many people voted by mail in the last election? — only to find DeJoy did not know the answers.
"I'm concerned about your understanding of this agency," she said.
White House scoffs at House bill
In a statement Sunday, the Postal Service said it greatly appreciates House efforts to assist the agency, but remains concerned that some of the bill's requirements, "while well meaning, will constrain the ability of the Postal Service to make operational changes that will improve efficiency, reduce costs and ultimately improve service to the American people."
Twenty-six House Republicans broke with Trump and the party leadership to back the House bill, which passed 257-150, but White House chief of staff Mark Meadows dismissed the bill as "going nowhere."
A bill in the Senate would provide the Postal Service with up to $25 billion to cover revenue losses or operational expenses resulting from COVID-19. The bill has at least 22 co-sponsors, including no fewer than nine Republicans.
With files from CBC News