Troy — Demonstrators covered corners of a high-traffic intersection near the city’s post office Saturday in hopes to bring awareness to the series of cost-cutting measures at the U.S. Postal Service, implemented by its new postmaster general.
The USPS is not a business but a service and shouldn’t be as divisive as it’s become said Laurie Evans of Troy, who participated in the demonstration at the intersection of Big Beaver and Livernois.
“This is a service that is an integral part of our infrastructure, the way that it has become politicized during the election year is just unjustifiable,” Evans said. “We need the Senate to pass the funding that has been sitting on the Senate majority leaders desk so it can continue to be a service for all Americans. It was never meant to make a profit.”
Evans recognized her mail was slowing down in March and assumed it was pandemic related until she saw news coverage of removed sorting machines and cuts.
“It seems like it really is a sabotage of the service that is unconscionable, I don’t understand how we got to this point,” Evans said.
Some demonstrators, who took to corners in Troy, held signs reading “Save the Post Office” and “DeJail” in reference to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.
“Because there will be more mail, the post office needs more funding,” said Paul Krause, 73, of Troy. “The post office has been a part of the foundation of this country for more than 200 years and if the ballots don’t get in by mail properly, then, where’s our democracy?”
A handful of concerned citizens attended the demonstration Saturday morning and were surprised by the consistent honking and show of support from locals.
“We hope to attract the attention of our congressional representatives. Our democracy is at stake,” said Krause, who led the demonstration.
It was the second call-out in Troy, following marches and protests at the Royal Oak Post Office in August.
The slice of Michigan that covers Detroit, its suburbs and towns dependent on the auto industry is coveted political terrain in one of this year’s most important presidential swing states. It also has another distinction as home to one of the worst-performing U.S. Postal Service districts in the country.
In Michigan and beyond, states are seeing record-breaking interest in mail-in voting during the coronavirus pandemic. But controversial changes at the Postal Service have compounded long-standing delivery delays nationwide and sparked concerns among election officials and voters alike over the agency’s ability to deliver this fall.
Data obtained by The Associated Press shows postal districts across the country are missing by wide margins the agency’s own goals for on-time delivery, raising the possibility that scores of mailed ballots could miss deadlines for reaching local election offices if voters wait too long. Missing a deadline is a key reason mail-in ballots get rejected.
Several postal districts serving urban regions in battleground states have a history of delivering mail at below the national targets and saw sharp drop-offs in performance over the summer. The message to voters is clear: Mail those ballots early.
“As soon as possible,” said Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat.
The Postal Service, long an afterthought in the political process, was drawn into the fray after its new leader DeJoy implemented a series of cost-cutting measures that delayed deliveries nationwide. The changes have sparked a flurry of legal challenges and caused concerns over the agency’s ability to handle the anticipated crush of election mail this year, although DeJoy has said it will be the Postal Service’s top priority.
DeJoy, a GOP megadonor with no previous experience at the Postal Service, postponed the removal of mail sorting machines and collection boxes last month. He said it was “to avoid even the appearance of impact on election mail.”
Despite pausing some policies, DeJoy left in place rules restricting when mail can leave warehouses, which several postal workers have said is a main culprit behind the delays. Federal judges have since ordered the Postal Service to halt all changes, although the agency said it is exploring its legal options.
On-time delivery across the country dipped substantially in the weeks after DeJoy took office in mid-June, according to internal weekly performance data obtained by The Associated Press through a Freedom of Information Act request. While service began rebounding toward the end of summer, no Postal Service region is meeting the agency’s target of delivering more than 95% of first-class mail within five days.
“One of the most frustrating aspects about the changes that have happened at the Postal Service over the past several months is that it’s created uncertainty and chaos where none existed prior, and now you do have so many citizens asking, ‘Is my vote going to get there on time?’” Benson said.
Delivery times worsened after DeJoy started and remained below the agency’s targets at the end of August. On-time delivery in northern Ohio, which includes Cleveland, dipped to as low as 63% in July before rising to 88% by the end of August.
The Michigan secretary of state is mailing every registered voter a ballot application and is encouraging residents to make a plan for voting. That could include circumventing the Postal Service altogether through early voting or by placing ballots in drop boxes.
The postal district covering the eastern part of the state includes Detroit and other places that could determine how Michigan votes in the presidential race, including Dearborn, Flint and Macomb County. On-time mail deliveries there fell to as low as 61% at the beginning of last month and rose to around 80% by the end of August. The greater Michigan area, which covers a part of the state that leans more Republican overall, performed at just over 90%.
“We’re encouraging voters to make a plan to vote now,” said Merissa Kovach, a policy strategist at the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, adding that voters should use ballot drop boxes if Election Day is nearing and they haven’t yet mailed their ballot.
A judge last week said Michigan must count mailed absentee ballots that arrive within 14 days after Election Day if postmarked by Nov. 2. Republicans are trying to appeal.
Postal Service spokesman Dave Partenheimer said the agency is committed to improving service and pointed to a nearly 89% national on-time rate for first-class mail at the start of September.
Roill Katzman, a resident of Bloomfield Hills who attended the demonstration in Troy, said he was tired of sitting on the sidelines.
“Things are getting very ugly and we’re so divided… The post office should be a non-divisive issue especially when it benefits everyone, equally,” said Katzman, 65. “It’s been weaponized for the election. To turn it into any issue at all is absurd.”
The Associated Press contributed