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Mail backlog raises fears of delays in ballot delivery

WASHINGTON — The US Postal Service is experiencing days-long backlogs of mail across the country after a top Trump donor running the agency put in place new procedures described as cost-cutting efforts, alarming postal workers who warn that the policies could undermine their ability to deliver ballots on time for the November election.

As President Trump ramps up his unfounded attacks on mail balloting as susceptible to widespread fraud, postal employees and union officials say the changes implemented by the Trump fund-raiser-turned-postmaster general Louis DeJoy are contributing to a growing perception that mail delays are the result of a political effort to undermine absentee voting.

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Meanwhile, Trump said Friday that he will vote by absentee ballot in November, just one day after questioning whether the election should be delayed because of problems with voting by mail.

Speaking to reporters, the president urged Republican voters to cast absentee ballots, saying that he would do so with his own ballot. “Absentee ballots are a great thing,” he said.

At the same time, he argued that vote-by-mail is a “disaster.”

The postal backlog comes as the president, who is trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden in the polls, has escalated his efforts to cast doubt about the integrity of the November vote, which is expected to see record numbers of mail ballots because of the coronavirus pandemic.

DeJoy, a North Carolina logistics executive who donated more than $2 million to GOP political committees in the past four years, approved a series of changes that took effect July 13 that the agency said were aimed at cutting costs for the debt-laden mail service. They included prohibiting overtime pay, shutting down sorting machines early, and requiring letter carriers to leave mail behind when necessary to avoid extra trips or late delivery on routes.

The new policies have resulted in at least a two-day delay in scattered parts of the country, even for express mail, according to postal workers and union leaders. Letter carriers are manually sorting more mail, adding to the delivery time. Bins of mail ready for delivery are sitting in post offices because of scheduling and route changes. And without the ability to work overtime, workers say the logjam is worsening without an end in sight.

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As states look to dramatically expand the use of mail-in ballots this fall, postal workers across the country said the changes could lead to chaos in November.

‘‘I’m actually terrified to see election season under the new procedure,’’ said Lori Cash, president of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) Local 183 in New York.

David Partenheimer, spokesman for the US Postal Service, said the recent changes aim to stabilize the agency after decades of financial woes. The procedures are not meant to slow the delivery of ballots or any other mail, he said.

‘‘Of course we acknowledge that temporary service impacts can occur . . . but any such impacts will be monitored and temporary,’’ Partenheimer said.

Partenheimer said claims that DeJoy takes directions from Trump are ‘‘wholly misplaced and off-base,’’ noting that the postmaster general is appointed by a bipartisan board of governors.

In a meeting with DeJoy on Thursday, the head of one of the nation’s largest postal workers unions said he shared the ‘‘deep concerns’’ of postal workers that the new procedures are causing mounting backlogs that could affect the election.

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‘‘I vehemently weighed in that this is wrong,’’ said Mark Dimondstein, president of APWU, which represents more than 200,000 postal employees and retirees. ‘‘It’s wrong for the people of the country, it’s wrong for the public Postal Service. It drives away business and revenue. And it’s wrong for the workers.’’

Dimondstein said DeJoy told him that he is committed to mail voting and providing full assistance to states as they run their elections. ‘‘I plan, and the people of the country plan, to hold him to his word,’’ the union leader added.

Voters and postal workers have reported scattered problems across the country in recent days, including in key battleground states such as Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Material from Bloomberg News was used in this report.