Robert Gehrke: Trump’s attack on the Postal Service and election integrity matters to Utahns

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Robert Gehrke.

The post office is older than the country itself, but don’t think that will stand in President Donald Trump’s way as he tries to demolish the institution to help him win a second term.

By now you’ve heard about the president’s attacks. The Postal Service, like this country’s private businesses, has been hurt by COVID-19 and is looking for money from Congress to keep it on its feet. And because of the pandemic, it is about to receive scores of millions of mail-in ballots in states throughout this country. That includes the all-important swing states.

The president’s brazenness in election-tampering is truly Trumpian.

Back in April, he acknowledged what most of us knew all along — that his resistance to mail-in voting was because “for whatever reason, it doesn’t work out well for Republicans.”

Not working for Republicans — and more specifically, him — isn’t a great reason to make voters stand in line in a coronavirus stew, so he dressed it up with claims that mail-in voting will result in millions of fraudulent ballots cast.

Those claims, we know, are unfounded.

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank, has documented nearly 1,300 cases of voter fraud going back years. That’s for the whole country and for a whole bunch of elections. It’s very, very rare.

The study is even touted on the White House website — and almost none of the cases (about 1 in every 100) involves absentee or mail-in ballots. In most of those cases, people are casting absentee ballots in two states or voting on behalf of a deceased relative.

We don’t get a lot of real voter fraud because it takes a lot of effort to sneak in just a few votes, a high-risk, low-reward proposition.

But what Trump is doing is more ambitious than any fraud. It’s an attempt to suppress voters — especially those who don’t support him — and rig the election. In case you couldn’t figure it out on your own, he connected the dots last week while explaining why he is blocking additional funding for the Postal Service.

“They need that money in order to have the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots,” Trump said in an interview. “If they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting because they’re not equipped to have it.”

Where once you would drive away voters by making it onerous, requiring IDs or eliminating polling locations to create long lines, now he can simply choke off the funding needed to ensure the post office can deliver ballots in a timely manner.

In Utah, potential delays in the mail may not matter as much. We’ve been doing mail-in voting for years and we count any ballot postmarked before Election Day — the sensible way to do it.

But in 34 other states, including key battleground states, the ballots must be received by Election Day, so ballots stuck in the mail could go uncounted and voters will lose their voice.

In Michigan, the secretary of state has asked the Legislature to change the law, and others may (and should) do the same.

In other states, the effort to block mail-in voting is even more overt. In Nevada, the Trump campaign sued to block a mail-in voting law. In Pennsylvania, the Republican Party has done the same.

Trump says voting in person is safe — although who knows where we’ll be in November? — and that’s what people should do. “You know, there’s nothing wrong with getting out and voting. You get out and vote,” he said. “They voted during World War I and World War II.”

In related news, Trump won’t be voting in person. Last week he requested an absentee ballot.

Hypocrisy aside, what the president is doing — suppressing the vote and undermining faith in the outcome of the election — is an assault on the most basic pillar of democracy, and sends a harmful message.

Sen. Mitt Romney said last week that the United States must stand as an example to fledgling democracies around the globe, and every step must be taken to ensure people are able to vote.

“That’s more important even than the outcome of the vote,” Romney said at an event hosted by the Sutherland Institute. “We have got to preserve the principle of democracy or the trend we’re on is going to continue to get worse.”

There are other ramifications of Trump’s smothering of the Postal Service, unrelated to the election, according to Russell Franklin, president of the Salt Lake chapter of the American Postal Workers Union.

“We are already feeling the effects of the changes that Postmaster [Louis] DeJoy has made,” Franklin said. The elimination of some mail sorting machines and a reduction in the number of mail trucks running between post offices is delaying delivery.

Smaller towns in rural Utah, places where FedEx might not be an option, will feel it even worse, meaning people might not get things like paychecks or medicines as quickly as they once did.

The pandemic has caused a sharp reduction in the amount of business and advertising mail and that has hurt the bottom line — although parcel delivery is up. Without relief from Congress, things could get worse.

Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, said Friday that Postal Service’s problems go back years, to past administrations, partly due to Congress, which he said should get out of the way, aside from ensuring rural communities and those receiving medications can get their mail.

He’s right, to a point. The budgetary problems of the postal service are largely Congress’ fault and they do go back years. They will also be there next year.

Right now, we have a pandemic and an election, and the mail will play a crucial, irreplaceable role in keeping the first from wiping out the second. Utah’s members of Congress ought to step up and ensure that the Postal Service has what it needs to guarantee our democracy is sustained, come rain or snow or sleet or even Donald Trump.