As millions of voters
voted by mail during the coronavirus pandemic
in November, postal workers worked tirelessly to ensure that ballots reached voters and were returned to election officials on time.
This came in the face of aggressive efforts by then-President Donald Trump
to cast doubt on the legitimacy of mailed ballots, while Louis DeJoy, who took over as postmaster general under Trump, enacted a series of policy changes that significantly slowed overall mail delivery times.
Now, President Joe Biden
has appointed three new members to the board that oversees the USPS, and one of them, Amber McReynolds
, was clearly chosen with these issues in mind. She is the only postal governor
in the agency's recent history with a deep background in running elections
, and she told Stardia that repairing the damaged faith in the Postal Service's role in carrying out the functions of democracy
is her top priority.
“I do believe it is the greatest risk in terms of security for our elections,” she said in a recent interview
“The Postal Service is vulnerable to that disinformation
,” she added, noting that “the moment you start seeing a deterioration in trust and service, and people
can't get access to information as to why,” conspiracy theories gain a foothold.
There are numerous ways for government agencies to fail citizens, but the Postal Service is consistently ranked as one of the most trustworthy by the general public.
“It has been largely responsible for connecting the government to its citizens and citizens to each other, the public to commerce, since our country’s inception,” McReynolds said, adding that “this institution is a lifeline to many communities.”
When the mail isn't reliable — when people miss paychecks and get their medications late — it opens the door for bad actors
who want to deliberately undermine the country's trust in the mail and the government, she says.
McReynolds is the CEO of the National Vote at Home Institute. She oversaw elections in Denver
for more than a decade, working hand in hand with post office officials to run local elections, and she pioneered a system to let voters track their mail-in ballots.
All of this was put to the test in the previous year.
“There was a concerted effort all year long to create distrust in the process,” McReynolds said. “People were talking about how to create mistrust in the process. I never expected to fact-check the White House
all year long, but I did. That’s so destructive to our democracy.”
Worse, she added, “people are now using those lies to restrict voting access by design.” Republicans
, relying on the lie that Biden stole Trump's presidential election, have proposed 250 restrictions in 43 states aimed at restricting voting rights
All of this raises the challenge for McReynolds in her new role of ensuring the mail remains trustworthy in the eyes of the majority of Americans.
The Postal Service is expected to lose billions of dollars in the coming years as its traditional revenue generator, postage on mail, becomes less relevant and massive pension obligations strain its balance sheets.
The pandemic, its toll on the USPS workforce, and a massive increase in package volume are partly to blame, but so is DeJoy, a Trump-appointed postal board member who has exacerbated the agency's problems with disruptive changes to long-standing delivery practices, such as an emphasis on efficiency rather than timel
As president, Trump led a direct assault
on public trust in the Postal Service by threatening to withhold funds needed to handle a pandemic-era tidal wave of mail voting. The USPS took extraordinary measures to ensure that ballots were delivered on time, but that didn't stop a sizable portion of the public from doubting that the USPS was up to the task.
And, while the USPS delivered an overwhelming majority of ballots quickly and on time, it lacked the technology to track all ballots in real time and reassure the public that it was successful.
But, just as millions of shoppers will likely continue to rely on the mail and e-commerce for many goods in the aftermath of the pandemic, millions will likely continue to vote by mail long after the pandemic is over.
McReynolds hopes that a year from now, much of the country will have the same mail delivery speeds as before the pandemic, as well as the same level of reliability, which means that when you put something in the mail, the post office should be able to give you a clear estimate of when it will arrive and then meet that estimate.
She envisions a safer workforce — dozens of postal workers died from COVID-19
during the pandemic, and thousands more were infected — and a “more full-time workforce,” and she is pushing for the USPS to undergo a massive technological upgrade in order to continue delivering packages at record rates.
McReynolds, who was confirmed on May 13, is an independent, but Democrats
now have a one-seat majority on the board. The governing board is unlikely to fire DeJoy, despite the fact that many Democrats are calling for his ouster, but it can rein in his plans to slow service and make major cuts.
Both of Biden's other appointees are Democrats: Anton Hajjar, who served as general counsel for the American Postal Workers Union — which represents workers in distribution and sorting centers, which were hammered by COVID-19, and is the most liberal and vocal of the postal unions
— and Ron Stroman, who was the USPS's No. 2 until 2020.
The nomination of McReynolds reflects the importance of a functioning post office in American elections, as well as the Biden administration
's understanding of the importance of the mail in the democratic process.
During the 2020 elections, the National Vote at Home Institute advised states on how to change their laws and practices to accommodate an unprecedented shift to absentee voting, whether that meant expanding who could vote by mail or changing deadlines to request, send, and process absentee ballots to ensure that the mail could deliver the ballots on time.
At times, the group collided with the Trump administration
's assault on absentee voting, with its push for states to process mail-in ballots before Election Day
to avoid significant delays in results thwarted in part by Trump's false claims that mail-in votes
were fraudulent votes.
For states that did nothing to avoid chaos, “everything we said came true,” McReynolds said, and those that had no plan for how to count millions of ballots experienced significant delays in reporting election results.
“We have to do everything we can to root out the partisan politics
that have made their way into election administration because it’s not healthy and voters don’t want it,” she recently stated. “It’s going to take an all-of-community effort local officials, election officials, local reporters, national news
reporters, everyone has to play a role in addressing this viral