BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS AND KATE ALBRIGHT
Montclair activists joined thousands across the state who gathered outside post offices on Friday, Aug. 21, to demand full federal funding for mail services, contending that America’s future and democracy depend upon the institution.
Financial problems have plagued the U.S. Postal Service for years, but recent changes such as removing sorting machines and mailboxes and cutting budgets and overtime have been highly criticized, especially as more and more states, including New Jersey, are committing to mostly mail-in elections in November.
Earlier Friday morning, Postmaster Louis DeJoy, who took over in June, testified before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, contending that in 2019, net losses approached $9 billion, and the U.S. Postal Service is closing in on $11 billion in losses for 2020.
“Currently, our liabilities exceed our assets by approximately $135 billion. Without dramatic change, there is simply no end in sight, and we face an impending liquidity crisis that threatens our ability to deliver on our mission to the American public,” DeJoy said in defense of his decisions.
Last week, Gov. Phil Murphy announced that the November elections would be mostly mail-in, but voters would have other options besides the post office to cast their vote: to drop off ballots at a polling place that will be open for provisional ballot voters only or at ballot boxes placed in most towns.
November will be the third time this year Montclair voters will cast their ballots by mail due to the pandemic. In May, the township’s municipal elections were the first to be mail-in-only in New Jersey history.
In the May election, 1,086 Montclair ballots were not counted due to late arrival and signature problems. At the time, the cutoff for having a vote counted was 48 hours past election day, and there was no mechanism to “cure” a signature that had been rejected. The main Montclair post office also reportedly closed at 3 p.m. on election day, four hours before its scheduled closing time, due to labor shortages connected to the pandemic.
As with the June primaries, Murphy will allow for a seven-day return from the post office for the November election.
County Clerk Chris Durkin said the post office has been “weaponized to slow down the [democratic] process intentionally, and we are all standing up to push back against it, to create action, and that’s funding for the post office to be at their best.”
Durkin said that Murphy’s allowing 16 days for voters to cure and update their registered signatures will be vital in the voting process. The primaries in July was the first time New Jersey allowed voters to cure signatures that were rejected.
But the recent changes within the postal service go far beyond its ability to support states’ vote-by-mail operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, said the group that assembled outside Montclair’s post office on Friday. Everyday delivery from the post office is crucial to seniors, veterans and students.
Marcia Marley, president of BlueWaveNJ, the organizing sponsor, said that the postal slowdowns are depriving veterans and other Americans of critical medicine deliveries, exacerbating the healthcare crisis.
Willie Walker, a BlueWaveNJ volunteer and speaker, said, “The post office is vital. It’s vital for people getting their meds on time. Veterans who fought wars for this country now can’t get their medicine on time because of what they’re doing to the post office. No! We can’t allow that to happen. Children not being able to go to school, get stuff through the mail. We have to defend it.”
Jill Jenkins, another BlueWaveNJ volunteer, pointed to a slowdown in seniors’ receiving Social Security checks, and also to the affordability of mailing through the post office.
“Yes, they have a lot of other ways of mailing things now, like FedEx and UPS, but, you know, we still need our government entity for those people that can’t afford to go and find UPS or FedEx or anything like that, because this is super-important,” Jenkins said.
Elizabeth Seaton-Frankfort, whose late husband worked for the post office, said he worked around the clock to get the mail delivered.
“I dealt with being married to the post office for so many years. It took a lot out of him physically. DeJoy said today at the hearings that he studied for hours the flow of the mail, and then he started making changes,” Seaton-Frankfort said, adding she wished she had her husband’s insight.
“There are postal workers, postal service supervisors who have been crying out against the defamation of the post office for years,” she said. “And, you know, we gotta find our way to those people and have them educate us about how this incredibly important institution is structured. It just makes me so angry.”