How to help the Postal Service — and make sure your mail-in ballot is counted

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In the U.S., presidents are prohibited by the Constitution from interfering in elections in a number of ways, but the founding document doesn't explicitly protect one institution that's critically important right now: the United States Postal Service (USPS). Though Trump himself has voted via absentee ballot in Florida, he's attempted to portray voting by mail as some sort of sinister, fraudulent act — and he's severely hobbled the USPS in his anti-absentee voting mission.

The USPS has now become a political flashpoint, indicative of everything from one's views on the importance of mail to the safety of mail-in voting and the fact that Trump is destroying the Postal Service in order to win re-election. His defunding efforts have spurred a wave of action across the country to support the USPS — here's how you can get involved.

Why is the USPS running out of money?

The Postal Service is a federally funded organization. It's not a business, so it's supposed to focus on providing a service to the American people rather than on profitability. For years it's lost money, because delivering mail to Americans isn't intended to be a successful entrepreneurial venture; driving envelopes, packages, and prescriptions into rural communities for free is no one's theory of a moonshot business idea. There are also some recent changes to USPS policy that have led the agency to bleed cash, mainly a mandate that it must pre-fund carriers' retirement funds.

Then, this spring, officials high up in the Postal Service knew that money would be an even bigger issue because of coronavirus. They started warning members of Congress back in April that the pandemic would lead to a disastrous revenue drop, as people were sending less mail and making fewer trips to local branches to buy stamps and access in-person services.

The House Oversight Committee announced this week that it would call the new postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, to testify on Capitol Hill on Saturday to speak to concerns that the USPS's hobbled functioning will lead to widespread disenfranchisement this fall if people can't get their absentee ballots. "The American people want their mail, medicines, and mail-in ballots delivered in a timely way, and they certainly do not want drastic changes and delays in the midst of a global pandemic just months before the election," said New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D), the chairwoman of the House Oversight Committee.

So how can you help the USPS?

For starters, you can pressure your lawmakers using Mic's guide. House Democrats had adjourned for their summer recess already, but the sustained outcry about the USPS crisis led House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to recall her members this week so they could vote on a bill to help the Postal Service and also question DeJoy. Signing petitions and bugging people on social media might seem like a way to demonstrate support, but it's unlikely lawmakers will listen unless their constituents make their lives difficult, so keep calling and emailing. Congressional staffers actually do let their bosses know what's going on if you're persistent enough.

In addition to pressing representatives to act to save the Postal Service, you can lobby for them to pass the HEROES Act. This is particularly relevant if you live in a state with a Republican senator, as it's the GOP-held Senate that's failed to take up the bill that House Democrats passed back in May. The House included $25 billion for the Postal Service as part of the HEROES Act, and it's unlikely Republicans in the Senate will support companion legislation. But the best shot would be to make it clear to them that their time in office depends on it.

You can also buy stamps or other goods from the USPS to give the service some extra revenue — or even, if you can imagine it, send a handwritten card to someone you love. The Postal Service sells branded apparel, toys, trinkets, and even a costume for your dog. Think of it this way: Every purchase in an investment in democracy. It shouldn't be this way, but for right now, it is.

What can you do to ensure your vote if you use a mail-in ballot?

Mail delivery times have already slowed down quite a bit, so if you're concerned about voting by mail, the best bet would be to return your ballot as soon as possible. Each state has its own rules about when a ballot needs to be returned by in order to be counted. You can find out more about each state's requirements here.

But when in doubt, fill out the ballot as soon as you can after receiving it, and drop it in a mailbox as soon as you can after that. There are a lot of logistics that go into processing ballots through the mail, which means there are a lot of ways your ballot could be tripped up on its way to the polling station. For instance, sometimes automated mail scanners don't properly mark mail (in this case, ballots) with the date it was received — which, depending on your state, could mean your ballot is discarded. Don't procrastinate: If you request an absentee ballot but haven't received it even after the period of early voting starts, call your local board of elections and ask if your ballot has been mailed out. If you're still having trouble after that, call your member of Congress, as they have dedicated constituent services that could be helpful in figuring out how you can vote.

To be clear, none of this is an indictment of the security of mail-in ballots. Despite what the president wrongly insists, voter fraud via absentee ballots is extremely low. If you fill out your mail-in ballot correctly and drop it off with ample time ahead of your state's deadline, it will be counted; don't let anyone scare you out of filling out your ballot. If you're really concerned about it, you can still go to a polling place — just be sure to take all necessary coronavirus precautions, and, if you can, stay in line as long as it takes to cast your vote.

The election this November won't truly be democratic unless everyone has access to the vote, which means that it doesn't just matter if you get your ballot in. Pressuring the Trump administration works: Officials quickly reversed an immigration rule regarding international students in July due to a nationwide outcry against it. The same can be done to protect the Postal Service — and, by extension, your right to vote.