Forget Florida or Ohio. The latest political battleground is within the well-worn halls of the United States Postal Service (USPS). And Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a longtime advocate for protecting and expanding voting rights, has a plan.
The USPS is a constitutionally enshrined institution with a simple and equalizing mandate: to deliver the mail (from letters to medications to social security checks) to everyone in the country. Over centuries, it’s weathered a lot. Now, as our pandemic-era presidential election makes vote-by-mail key to the health of our democracy, Sen. Warren says attacks are ramping up. After all, she adds, President Donald Trump has spread misinformation about mail-in voting, which is at odds with the USPS’s official policies. He's openly admitted to opposing additional funding because it would ease voting. And his campaign donor-turned-recent appointee, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, has instituted widespread infrastructural changes this summer, including canceling overtime pay and removing hundreds of mail-sorting machines.
But here's the good news: Postal workers are pushing back. On Saturday, Washington USPS employees went against orders and reinstalled their high-speed mail sorting machines, and on Aug. 25, the American Postal Workers Union has organized a Nationwide Day of Action, with a list of resources for those looking to get involved.
Sen. Warren is resisting too. Along with her Democratic colleagues in the Senate, she demanded an investigation into DeJoy’s changes, leading to his congressional testimony. Now, she’s calling upon the Postal Board of Governors to remove DeJoy and reverse the actions he’s taken. She spoke to Bustle about conflicts of interest, those BLM blocks, and why she's counting on us.
On a scale of 1-10, how are you feeling about the integrity of November’s election?
I’m an 11! I’m worried that Donald Trump is going to do everything he can to keep people from voting, and to keep the people who do vote from having their ballots counted, which is voter suppression on a massive scale, unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.
How, exactly, is the suppression being carried out?
DeJoy ordered the USPS to remove 671 mail sorting machines by the end of September. Those machines can [collectively] sort more than 20 million pieces of mail an hour, and so far, he's admitted that he has no plans to replace the machines already removed. I don’t want to hear just that he’s going to stop the active sabotage; I want to hear that he’s reversing the sabotage he’s already put in place!
What will it take to right this wrong?
Part of it is to pressure him, through hearings in the House and in the Senate [and through] outside pressure. Look, he agreed to show up for these hearings not because he wanted to, but because he’s feeling the heat from people all across this country, who are furious. Also, the Board of Governors has the power both to reverse the actions that DeJoy has taken — and to get rid of DeJoy. So it’s important to [also] put pressure on the Board of Governors.
And aside from these operational changes, why do you disapprove of him as postmaster general?
DeJoy’s job as a public servant should be to help the post office operate at peak efficiency delivering the mail, including the prescription deliveries and pension checks. But he holds millions of dollars of stock in XPO Logistics, a transportation company that does business with the USPS. That’s a huge conflict of interest! How can he claim to be making impartial decisions?
This is the heart of what the conflict's about. Public servants should not be permitted to own individual stock at the same time that they’re making decisions that could affect the value of that stock. The public should never be forced to guess whether a public servant is trying to help them or help themselves. We all understand that people get things wrong sometimes, but we should at least have confidence that their intent was to advance the public interest.
If you were questioning him at a congressional hearing, what would you ask?
I would ask whether the president or any of his staff ever requested that DeJoy take actions based on Trump’s opposition to mail-in voting. Here’s another one: DeJoy sold Amazon stock on June 24, but bought Amazon [stock options] at the same time. He was betting that the stock would dip, and then go up again, which would put more money in his pocket. Did that action have anything to do with his efforts to sabotage the post office?
My mom worked for the postal service for my whole life. She was a postmaster, so knowing you’re asking these questions means a lot to me.
That’s terrific! Tell your mom, when I spoke at the Democratic National Convention, we put some things in the background. One of the things was a little kid’s jacket that had a postal service emblem on it. It was our way to say, “Everyone supports the post office.”
I caught the blocks spelling out BLM, but hadn’t seen that. Did you have to run those by Biden's campaign?
Oh, we just put it up there! I don’t think we asked anyone in advance. It was important to use every single second, but also every single pixel on the screen.
Lots of people want to help the postal service — including Cher! What can concerned citizens do?
Be loud. Do not back off. And remember, the bad part to this story is that Donald Trump is trying to undermine our democracy and Louis DeJoy is his henchman. The good news is that DeJoy, at least, is responding to public pressure. He’s feeling the heat. Be loud, be aggressive, talk about it every day, get as many people engaged as you can. We’ve got to stay on him, every single day, from now until Nov. 3. Stay on it. And let me know if I can help.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.