“Shocked” that President Donald Trump is trying to starve the U.S. Postal Service of funds it needs to operate effectively during the pandemic, Connecticut Secretary of the State Denise Merrill on Friday said she will urge voters to drop their absentee ballots for the Nov. 3 election in collection boxes set up at town halls all over the state.

“It’s hard to shock me, but this just shocks me,” Merrill said of Trump’s opposition to funding the U.S. Postal Service. “My plan B is the drop boxes. But that’s not great.”

A slow-down in the mail means that even if people follow all of their state’s election rules, the pace of Postal Service delivery could disqualify their votes. Merrill is concerned that many Connecticut voters won’t have transportation to be able to use the drop boxes and others won’t venture out because of concerns about COVID 19.

An official absentee ballot drop off box.

Meanwhile, State Attorney General William Tong is calling Trump’s management of the postal system finances “sabotage.”

“Donald Trump finally admitted what we all knew to be true — he is gutting the U.S. Postal Service in order to block Americans from voting during a raging pandemic,” Tong said in a statement. “He knows his polling. He knows his best chance of winning at this point is if people can’t vote. But we’re not going to let him hijack this election.”

Tong said he is in contact with other attorneys general to “to mount a vigorous legal defense of our postal service and the legitimacy of our election.”

The U.S. Postal Service recently sent detailed letters to 46 states – including Connecticut –  warning that it cannot guarantee all ballots cast by mail for the Nov. 3 election will arrive in time to be counted.

In reaction, some states have already announced that they are going to mail out their absentee ballots earlier, and Gov. Ned Lamont has said it is important for Connecticut to do the same.

The president said Thursday that he opposes additional funding for the postal service that Democrats insist it needs to process and handle the anticipated influx of mail-in ballots for the election.

“They need that money in order to have the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots,” Trump said. He said if the postal service doesn’t get the funds, “that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting because they’re not equipped to have it.”

Trump has long waged a campaign against mail-in voting, saying it opens the door to widespread voter fraud — something that, to date, has never been proven to be the case.

But because of the pandemic, 18 states, including Connecticut, have eased or expanded access to mail ballots so that concerned voters can avoid potential exposure to COVID-19 at polling places.

After pressing for greater use of absentee ballots, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said she is “shocked” at President Donald Trump’s efforts to defund the U.S. Postal Service. MARK PAZNIOKAS / CTMIRROR.ORG
After pressing for greater use of absentee ballots, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said she is “shocked” at President Donald Trump’s efforts to defund the U.S. Postal Service. MARK PAZNIOKAS / CTMIRROR.ORG

“We have just finished convincing people that they had to vote by mail to protect their health,” Merrill said, and most voters did use absentee ballots in this week’s primary election.

“Voters simply have to have [absentee ballots],” Merrill said. “There’s just no other option.”

Even before the pandemic hit, the U.S. Postal Service had problems, reporting losses of nearly $9 billion last year. Then in May, a Trump campaign donor, Louis DeJoy, was named postmaster general. He eliminated overtime for hundreds of thousands of post office employees and mandated that mail be kept until the next day if distribution centers run behind. He also mandated the decommissioning of 10 percent of the Postal Service’s sorting machines. He said he made these, and other changes, to cut costs.

Democrats are unhappy with DeJoy’s changes and have been insisting on new funding for the postal service in the next stimulus bill, which would also reinstate federal unemployment benefits and provide another round of stimulus checks. Negotiations on that legislation have stalled and a deal isn’t likely to be reached until September.

Tong is asking residents to report incidents to his office if they experience a mail slow down or problems with mail delivery “as a result of Donald Trump’s sabotage.”

“We need evidence and examples as we build the strongest possible case,” he said.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal mails a bill payment to test the efficiency of USPS.

Also Friday, at a press conference in front of a post office in downtown Hartford on Friday, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said the postal service has a “constitutional mandate” to deliver all mail, not just absentee ballots, in a timely fashion.

“On-time delivery of the mail is a critical function of the federal government,” he said. Like other Democrats, Blumenthal accused Trump of trying to suppress the vote and disenfranchise voters.

To test the efficiency of the postal service, Blumenthal dropped what he said was an envelope containing payment of a bill into a postal box. The senator supports a Democratic proposal to give the U.S. Postal Service $25 billion to shore up its services, and additional money to address problems directly linked to the pandemic, in the next stimulus bill.

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Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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