Since 1971, the United States Postal Service (USPS) has been a nationwide network that connects millions of Americans to each other, and just for a few cents. However, under the ruling of the newly appointed Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, USPS is facing major decreases in funding and has been sent into a financial crisis.
While DeJoy reasoned that this decision is an effort to cut costs, many argue that it is a form of voter suppression. From Jim Crow laws that prevented Black Americans from voting despite the 15th Amendment, to voter registration laws that exist in various states today, leaders have always used disenfranchisement to silence certain demographics. By finding loopholes or creating vague policies, they slowly chip away at our democratic structures.
In regards to the upcoming election, many claim that the defunding of the USPS is a form of suppressing votes. In a lawsuit against the Trump administration, the states of Hawaii, New Jersey, and New York, as well as the cities of San Francisco and New York, argued that the budget cut strips the USPS of essential resources needed to ensure a fair election.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, voting in person could also pose a safety threat. Being inside a crowded indoor voting location would be one of the most effective ways to transmit COVID-19 through a community. As a result, the significance of mail-in voting through the USPS is undeniable. “This is the year that [voting by mail] keeps us all safe. I can’t imagine voting a different way in the time of COVID,” explained Laila Ibrahim, a Berkeley resident and author. She continued, “It feels like Trump is aiming to discourage people from voting by mail, and putting people at physical risk because of COVID.”
Like Ibrahim, many Berkeley residents fear that this financial crisis may put their votes at risk of being miscounted or not being delivered on time. However, Kerry Jones, a Berkeley mailman of 26 years, is not worried. In the section of Berkeley that his route covers, mail-in voting was already the most popular voting strategy, even before this election. Consequently, Jones believes that the Berkeley USPS will not feel overwhelmed with mail in ballots because there won’t be any sort of unusual overflow. “We will be able to handle our part as far as absentee voting and mail-in voting goes. Every ballot will be delivered, and every ballot will be picked up,” he said.
Another mailman, who preferred to remain anonymous, added that Berkeley USPS workers have always gone to great extents to do their part in the voting process. Because they have continued to be understaffed, postal workers have needed to work long hours to collect and deliver mail and ballots. He remembered, “People were getting their mail at midnight, and that was 2016 during the election. It was so in demand.” Yet, in agreement to Jones, this mailman knows that in Berkeley, the job will get done. “It’s not going to be a shock to us because we normally get a lot of mail-in ballots,” he said.
Other than being a major platform for voting, the USPS has been a great resource for general communication over large distances. For Shai Eastman, a sophomore in Academic Choice (AC), sending letters has always been a way of connecting with her family. “I’ve sent mail to my grandma specifically since I was 4. I send letters to her at least monthly, usually it’s weekly. Since most of my family is dispersed around the country, mail is a really awesome way to connect with them,” said Eastman. Additionally, mail is a valuable service for those who can’t afford to ship items through alternative companies. “It’s essential that we get these things delivered to each other and not have to do it ourselves, or pay the prices for things like UPS or FedEx,” Ibrahim said.
The USPS offers a degree of accessibility that other delivery services simply do not provide, connecting people in a time when human connection is needed more than ever. Ibrahim agreed that the work of the USPS is extraordinary, saying, “Really, it connects us to each other. It has always blown me away, that for 40 or 50 cents, I can put something on this little piece of paper, and it will go anywhere, in the whole country!”
In the midst of such a crisis, there has been one notable improvement, according to the unnamed mailman. “The customers are nicer now. They understand what we go through on a daily basis, because it’s always been like this. It’s always been a battle,” he said. Now, more than ever, we must protect the USPS and the essential services it offers the Berkeley community.