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EDITORIAL

Congress must protect mail-in voting, even if it means going to court

Concern over the US Postal Service comes as Trump has railed against absentee voting by mail for months, calling it “fraudulent,” and even drawing a fact-checking rebuke from Twitter for making the false claim.

Sydney Freenas wore a mask as she worked to process mail-in ballots from a primary election at the King County Elections headquarters in Renton, Wash.
Sydney Freenas wore a mask as she worked to process mail-in ballots from a primary election at the King County Elections headquarters in Renton, Wash.Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

It seems President Trump has a trusted commander in his war on Americans’ ability to safely cast absentee votes by mail in November’s election: Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a former Trump campaign and Republican mega-donor. With a raging pandemic that has made in-person voting more difficult, it is up to Congress to exercise its constitutional oversight of the US mail by ensuring that all mail, including ballots submitted in November’s election, is protected — even if it means taking the case to court.

Under DeJoy’s oversight, the US Postal Service implemented administrative measures last month that will only serve to slow mail delivery, including eliminating overtime, reducing delivery frequency, and even forcing carriers to leave mail behind at distribution centers, docks, and workroom floors — all ostensibly in the name of cost-cutting, according to publicly released documents.

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As congressional Democrats, including Representative Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts, pointed out to DeJoy in a July 20 letter: “While these changes in a normal year would be drastic, in a presidential election year when many states are relying heavily on absentee mail-in ballots, increases in mail delivery timing would impair the ability of ballots to be received and counted in a timely manner — an unacceptable outcome for a free and fair election.”

This comes as Trump has railed against absentee voting by mail for months, calling it “fraudulent,” and even drawing a fact-checking rebuke from Twitter for making the false claim.

Trump tried to change the subject Tuesday by declaring absentee voting in Florida “Safe and Secure, Tried and True” in a Twitter post. The tweet isn’t a reversal, given that Trump has repeatedly defended his own absentee votes — cast by mail — in the Sunshine State while excoriating efforts to make it more accessible in other parts of the country. The decision by his campaign, along with the Nevada state and national GOP, to sue over that state’s mail-in voting law is proof that his sudden embrace of mail-in voting in Florida was self-serving.

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It’s probably not a coincidence that Trump’s tweet about Florida came hours after Politico reported internal polling that showed Trump’s anti-absentee-voting rhetoric would probably come back to haunt him in his new home swing state and elsewhere. According to the poll cited in the report, 15 percent of Trump voters in Florida, 12 percent in Pennsylvania, and 10 percent in Michigan said they’d be less likely to vote at all if they got a ballot in the mail. The bald hypocrisy — of supporting mail-in voting in a state where he believes it’ll help him and opposing it where he thinks it won’t — is no surprise from a president who has repeatedly demonstrated his desire to hold onto power at all costs, even suggesting that the election be delayed entirely.

The actions of USPS officials to make it harder for Americans to vote by mail in order to keep themselves safe from the still-raging COVID-19 pandemic require an urgent response. And Democrats negotiating the next coronavirus relief bill’s push for billions of dollars in postal service funding — Lynch and other members of the Oversight Committee — have called DeJoy to testify before Congress next month, and in the meantime to reverse the administrative measures that have spurred mail delivery logjams.

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“The second direction that we could take is to go the federal courts and ask for injunctive relief from any efforts by the president to interfere with the congressional mandate to deliver the mail,” Lynch said. He noted that such a legal challenge could set up yet another “quasi constitutional crisis between (Congress) and the president.”

“Hopefully it won’t come to that,” Lynch said.

But given Congress’ constitutional oversight role over US mail, if it does come to that, lawmakers should not hesitate. The integrity of the election, and the safety and protection of votes, is at stake.


Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.