USPS struggles could put Washington election at risk

SEATTLE -- Like many businesses, the U.S. Postal Service is getting crushed by the coronavirus crisis, but its survival is critical to the state's vote-by-mail elections, according to Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman.

The threat of interrupted mail service has state officials scrambling for a backup plan in the event the Postal Service does not get a bailout. Congress has approved $10 billion for the Postal Service but the president has so far refused to sign off on it.

"Our ballot delivery system relies on the U.S.P.S. so I really support the idea that it needs to be funded so that we can ensure that we have elections this fall," Wyman told Q13 News.

President Donald Trump is demanding the Postal Service quadruple package delivery prices to qualify for a bailout.

"The Postal Service is a joke," he said, criticizing it for losing money and giving companies like Amazon a discounted rate. "If they don't raise the price, I'm not signing anything, so they'll raise the price so that they become maybe even profitable, but so they lose much less money, okay?"

The Postmaster General has said sales are plummeting because of the pandemic and the Postal Service could lose $22 billion over the next 18 months. Without federal assistance, the Postmaster General said it may not be able to make payroll or continue uninterrupted mail service past the summer.

Wyman, a Republican, said the demise of the Postal Service would be detrimental to democracy. Asked about the president's refusal to bail it out, she said that's his "political battle" but that Democrats and Republicans alike in her position are in favor of funding it.

In the event that doesn't happen, Wyman said the state is making contingency plans, including using alternative carriers like UPS, DHL and FedEx. Still, she said it's a flawed plan.

"Just out of the gate, the problem with those delivery methods is, one, they're more expensive and more importantly, they don't deliver to every P.O. box in this country and many of our voters use post office boxes," she said.

Wyman said rural voters would be most affected by an interruption in mail service, a factor that's always been considered as the Postal Service has financially struggled in recent years. A plan years ago to close thousands of post offices to save money, many in rural towns, was dropped after bipartisan pushback.

With the coronavirus pandemic  threatening the safety of polling locations come November, states are considering expanding mail-in voting to reduce risk to voters. Wyman said that makes the survival of the Postal Service that much more critical to secure a fair election.

Despite his criticisms, the president said he will not let the Postal Service fail.