Saving the Post Office — again

By Rep. Vicki Doudera | Sep 03, 2020
Rep. Vicki Doudera

Thirty years ago I was among a group of Camden residents who fought to save our historic Chestnut Street Post Office. At the time, postal officials in Washington insisted that our building was too small and needed to be replaced with a new, out-of-town facility. We disagreed, recognizing something that the D.C. bureaucrats didn’t: our post office was not only beautiful, historic, and adequately sized, but it was, and continues to be, a community anchor for the downtown. We mobilized to save our post office, and thankfully we won.

Three decades later, we’re engaged in a fight for post offices big and small across the country — 31,000 of them — along with mail carriers and postal workers, the heart and soul of our beleaguered U.S. Postal Service. Faced with the chaos of lost packages, late letters, dead chicks and missing medications, we are watching a critical infrastructure, one that has been integral to America since our colonial days, straining at the seams. This time, it isn’t the soul of our downtown that will suffer if we do not step up, but our very democracy, as record numbers of Americans prepare to vote by mail in November.

How could a system that serves so many vitally important functions be in this position? A new Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, made recent cuts to the USPS, including reducing overtime, which is crucial to on-time mail delivery. DeJoy also removed mail-sorting machines (including two here in Maine) and delayed delivery trucks. He warned on Aug. 14 that the postal service couldn’t guarantee timely delivery of absentee ballots in the November election, although last week he walked that statement back.

Meanwhile, postal customers and employees across the country have reported problems with the mail. In Maine, more than 65,000 pieces of mail were delivered late after trucks failed to wait an extra 10 minutes for the mail to be sorted, according to the Maine Sunday Telegram. Mainers who order medications say they are not arriving on time, and farmers receiving deliveries of chicks are opening the box to find them dead.

Rep. Chellie Pingree is as dismayed as any of us and has co-sponsored legislation to provide $25 billion to bolster the USPS during the pandemic and election. If passed, the legislation would require the postal service to treat election mail as first class mail and force the postmaster general to reverse operational changes. But while the Democratic-controlled House passed the bill on Aug. 21, the Republican-controlled Senate continues to ignore the issue.

Until challenges with the USPS’ infrastructure are properly addressed, the real problems we are seeing with our mail delivery will almost certainly continue. Faced with this reality, it’s important for each one of us to think now about how we will vote in November. Given that we do not know how prevalent COVID-19 will be in two months, you may not wish to vote in person at the polls on Election Day. So decide now how you will cast your ballot. Is your plan to vote absentee? Getting your ballot early — around Oct. 3 — and returning it early will be critical. If you want to vote by mail, send your ballot back at least seven days before the election, and make sure you use adequate postage. Do you want to avoid using the mail entirely? Vote absentee in person, at the town office, starting as soon as ballots are available and up until Oct. 30. You can also drop your absentee ballot off at the town office instead of mailing it, or bring it to the polls on Election Day.

The United States Postal Service is too important to all of us to let it fail and I feel confident that once more we will rise to the occasion and save this critical service. But in the meantime, make it a priority to be sure you exercise your most basic Democratic right. Make a plan to be sure your vote this November will count.

Rep. Vicki Doudera represents District 94: Camden, Islesboro and Rockport.

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