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US elections

US Elections 2020: how many pieces of mail are delivered daily by USPS?

The issue of mail-in voting remains a thorny one as Donald Trump launches repeated attacks on its viability but is the USPS set up to cope with unprecedented demand?

Donald J. Trump speaks at a campaign stop at the Miriotti Building Products Factory in Old Forge, Pennsylvania.
Peter FoleyEFE

As the Republicans prepare to host their national convention in the wake of the Democratic convention in Milwaukee, the US is readying itself for one of the most extraordinary presidential election races in history, one that the United States Postal Service unexpectedly finds itself at the very heart of. Due to the coronavirus pandemic in the US, it is anticipated that around half of all votes in the contest between Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden will be cast by mail.

What’s happening with the USPS?

A week ago, Trump told Fox Business News that talks between Republicans and Democrats over a new stimulus package had broken down due to economic rescue differences for the struggling USPS, which reported a $2.2 billion loss in the last financial quarter: "The items are the post office and the $3.5 billion for mail-in voting," Trump said, adding that Democrats want to give the post office $25 billion. "If we don't make the deal, that means they can't have the money, that means they can't have universal mail-in voting. It just can't happen."

Trump later backtracked on his words, stating that funding for the USPS would be made available if the Democrats approve his coronavirus relief proposals to unblock the impasse in the Senate.

At least three-quarters of all voters will be eligible to receive a ballot in the mail for the election — the most in US history, according to a New York Times analysis.

Can the USPS handle the load?

The USPS admitted there is a "significant risk" that postal votes will not be returned on time during the election due to changes implemented in the service by new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a staunch Republican who has pumped $2.7 billion into the party’s campaign coffers since 2017 and was appointed to his post in May despite having no prior experience at the USPS.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has recalled the chamber to vote on Saturday on a Postal Service bill to reverse the cost-cutting measures implemented by DeJoy. The postmaster general on Tuesday agreed to shelve his shake-up of the service until after the election but Pelosi said this did not go far enough.

“This pause only halts a limited number of the Postmaster’s changes, does not reverse damage already done, and alone is not enough to ensure voters will not be disenfranchised by the President this fall,” Pelosi said in a statement. “The House will be moving ahead with our vote this Saturday,” she said.

According to the USPS website, the service on average processes and delivers 472.1 million items per day.

That equates to an average of 19.7 million items of mail per hour, or 327,838 per minute.

So why is Trump so concerned about the ability of the USPS to deliver on election day?

Ballot drop boxes dividing opinion

The president has consistently claimed postal ballots will lead to a fraudulent vote in November, despite using the absentee voting system to cast his ballot in Florida's primary election. Most experts in electoral observation agree that there is no evidence to suggest mail-in voting will compromise the results of the elections, but it is a line Republicans have been only too happy to toe.

In 2016, 57.2 million people voted early, absentee or by mail, according to the US Election Assistance Commission. That represented two out of every five ballots with 23.6 percent of votes cast either through absentee ballots or mail-in voting. However, a Washington Post study found that there was only one confirmed case of postal voter fraud in the 2016 presidential election.

However, Trump’s re-election campaign has still moved to prevent ballot drop boxes being used in the key battleground state of Pennsylvania, which the president won by less than a single percentage point in 2016, while separately suing the states of Nevada and New Jersey over plans to mail ballots to every eligible voter.

Democrats have had much more success in getting their voters to sign up for mail ballots this year, greater than a two-to-one margin, Brendan Welch, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, told Reuters.

Elsewhere, Republican Secretaries of State Tre Hargett (Tennessee) and Jay Ashcroft (Missouri) have also put in place measures to prevent drop boxes from being used during the election.

However, Connecticut Secretary of State, Democrat Denise Merrill, has lauded the drop box as a more than viable alternative to mail-in ballots. “I don’t understand why people think they’re such a problem,” she was quoted by Reuters as saying. “They’re more secure than mailboxes.”

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