I didn’t keep a running tally and I can’t find any outlet that did, but Night 1 of the Democratic National Convention on Monday seemed to feature as much talk about the United States Postal Service as it did about the man who is getting nominated, for the presidency.
The reason was clear: Democrat voters may be meh about former Vice President Joe Biden, but they’re riled up about the Post Office. It’s an en vogue topic due to the battle over mail-in voting, with President Donald Trump saying he would veto any emergency funding for the Postal Service under a coronavirus relief package over his concerns about mail-in voting and Democrats claiming the president and Republicans are trying to suppress the vote under false pretenses.
The current target of Democrat ire is Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. Appointed in June, DeJoy has sought to make cuts at the Postal Service, never the most efficient of operations. House Democrats have been looking to force DeJoy and other top USPS officials to testify before Congress. The New York Times reported Sunday that top Democrats called the changes “a grave threat to the integrity of the election.”
Whether or not the Postal Service’s budget would even be the issue come November is highly debatable — in recent primary debacles like New York City’s, the real culprits have been election officials, who’ve bungled the process at every level — but some concerns about the USPS are more valid than others.
One that isn’t: The conspiracy theory that the Trump administration and DeJoy are deliberately removing some of the USPS’ iconic blue mailboxes to make it harder for you to vote.
This theory started in the less-informed corners of social media and quickly filtered up. In Maryland, at a Monday media briefing featuring some of the state’s most powerful Democratic legislators, U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume of Baltimore said that the USPS was, among other perfidies, “hijacking mailboxes off of every corner they can find,” according to WJZ-TV.
According to The Hill, Montana Democrat Sen. Jon Tester sent a letter to DeJoy demanding he respond to reports about mailbox removals in cities like Bozeman and Billings.
“If true, this seems to be occurring without any transparency or communication with impacted Montanans,” Tester wrote.
“The United States Postal Service plays a critical role in America, and its services are needed now more than ever, particularly in our rural communities where local access to grocery stores, pharmacies, and other essential services are often limited to nonexistent. These reported actions would cause harm to those who rely on the USPS for the delivery of medicine and distribution of benefits.”
Former U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri was one of many who tweeted out pictures of locked mailboxes:
So now they are not hauling them off, just locking them up. This one is in DC. pic.twitter.com/LQWzuM4tQm
— Claire McCaskill (@clairecmc) August 17, 2020
Except it turns out this wasn’t in D.C. but a different Washington — namely, in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood in Washington state, where it was locked up for reasons anyone who’s watched the news or read a Twitter feed recently will understand:
— Daniel Heppner (@Danielhep) August 15, 2020
In neither location would a locked-up mailbox have substantively affected Republican fortunes either way, which should have tipped off McCaskill this wasn’t part of a vast right-wing conspiracy.
And all that filters up must eventually reach the mouth of this man:
Joe Biden tonight on reports of mailbox removals: “I wonder if you’re outside trying to hold down your mailboxes. They’re going around literally with tractor trailers picking up mailboxes. You oughta go online and check out what they’re doing in Oregon. I mean, it’s bizarre!”
— Matt Viser (@mviser) August 14, 2020
Except they’re not.
The problem with this line of conspiracy theorizing is there’s no malicious, voter-suppressing intent behind the move. It’s a culling of mailboxes that’s been going on for years as mail volume has diminished in the digital age.
The bigger problem in this theory for Democrats is that mailbox removal is a practice that goes back to the Obama administration.
As a 2016 report from the USPS’ Office of the Inspector General stated: “Nationally the number of collection boxes declined by more than 12,000 in the past 5 years. Some customers have complained the Postal Service has gone too far and removed most collection boxes, except those at the Post Office. In addition, they have questioned whether any cost savings result from collection box removals.”
The report also indicated how the decision to pull a mailbox occurred.
“To identify underused collection boxes the Postal Service uses density tests to determine the average volume of mail collected, including an annual national density test, which was last conducted over a 2-week period in August and September 2015,” the report stated.
A 2017 report from the USPS Office of the Inspector General also stated “the U.S. Postal Service has been removing underused boxes, with about 14,000 boxes removed over the past five years. Postal Service policy requires approval by the Area and public notification in order to permanently remove a collection box.”
This all happened during the administration during which the man now accusing the current administration of “going around literally with tractor trailers picking up mailboxes” served as vice president.
Biden’s statement is part of a serious problem, and not just he has yet again abused the word “literally.” As the media tries to paint the president and other Republicans as conspirators against American democracy, here’s Donald Trump’s opponent literally repeating a theory he either knows or should know to be untrue due to his time as Barack Obama’s vice president.
And while he’s at the top of the ticket, he’s not alone. All of this is being parroted without attribution (because there can be none) by purportedly responsible Democrats, all of whom cite random, anecdotal reports all over the map.
Biden says it’s happening in Oregon, McCaskill says it’s happening in Washington D.C. (when it was actually happening in Seattle), Mfume says it’s happening in Maryland. If this is a conspiracy, it’s an especially stupid one, since the Trump administration and Postal Service are apparently doing it in locales where they have zero chance of picking up electoral votes or congressional seats.
It hasn’t been unnaturally accelerating. No one can point to a report that says it has — and to be fair, no one in the media is asking.
But it’s not a conspiracy, it’s a scapegoat act. No matter what happens in November, the Trump administration’s “dismantling” of the USPS will be the new “Russian collusion” deception.
When unprepared local boards of elections intersect officials in counties and states where officials have assured us they have their act together on universal mail-in voting when they assuredly don’t, the blame will be shifted to the Postal Service. We’ll be told that because the president refused to bail out the USPS, he suppressed the vote:
Just think, if only those collection boxes were there, vulnerable voters could have taken part in the process.
Wait, the Obama administration removed them? Whatever. Never let a good narrative go to waste.
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