The proposal by the US Postal Service to end Saturday mail delivery—which can and should be blocked by Congress—poses a dramatic threat to the economic and social viability of rural communities and inner cities. The move endangers small businesses that rely on affordable, universal and regular service. And it threatens the elderly, the disabled and vulnerable Americans who count on the connections made through the mail—and with the letter carriers who deliver it.
But there is another threat contained in this wrongheaded plan to put the Postal Service out of commission from Friday to Monday. Cutting mail delivery would undermine democracy by making it harder for the tens of millions of Americans who vote by mail to continue to do so.
Though the numbers vary from state to state, it is now generally accepted that 20 percent of American voters—including First Lady Michelle Obama—are casting ballots by mail. The numbers have increased at an exponential rate in recent years. Most mail voters do so via traditional absentee ballots, although roughly 5 percent live in states that formally conduct elections using a vote-by-mail system. And the practice is expanding; next week in California, 44,000 vote-by-mail ballots will be mailed to voters in advance of a March special election for the State Senate.
In the weeks before presidential and congressional elections, tens of millions of ballots will move through the postal system, with the final period before an election seeing many days when the volume of mailed ballots exceeds a million. Weekend days are especially busy because that’s when working people can find the time to apply for, fill out and send in absentee ballots. It is also, election officials say, when family members of the elderly and the disabled are most free to help them access and complete ballots. Only those who do not understand the stresses on already over-taxed election systems would suggest that it does not matter to reduce the number of days when tens of millions of voters can obtain ballots and cast them.
This is not a matter of Democrats versus Republicans, or liberals versus conservatives. While Democrats have made significant inroads, there are still regions where Republicans maintain absentee-voting advantages.