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Why Postal Service Is Slowing Down As Election Nears

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The Postal Service has warned almost every state in the country that some mail-in ballots might come in too late to be counted in the November election. That's according to a report in The Washington Post. There are growing reasons to believe that this is a result of steps President Trump and his allies have taken to intentionally undermine the U.S. Postal Service. Trump has called Post Office funding election money for Democrats to increase the vote-by-mail. And at the same time, the postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, a Trump donor and ally, has taken steps that have slowed down the mail.

In Montana, Democratic Sen. Jon Tester has noted that blue mailboxes across his state are being removed. And Sen. Tester joins us now from the seat of a combine on his Montana farm. Thank you for being with us.

JON TESTER: It's great to be with you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: So what's happening with mailboxes in Montana?

TESTER: Well, for no good reason, apparently they're being removed. I don't get it. I think the Postal Service is important in all parts of this country, but in rural America, it's critically important. Whether you're talking Social Security checks or whether you're talking prescription drugs or parts for the farm or being able to vote, it's all really important. This is an area where you have to drive long distances to get to a post office. And quite frankly, these blue boxes that are up are - they're important. And it distresses me to think that the Trump administration is actively pursuing policies and methods to deteriorate the Postal Service.

SHAPIRO: You've asked the postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, what's going on. Has he replied to your letter?

TESTER: We haven't got a reply yet. The fact of matter is, is that ever since DeJoy has come on board as postmaster general, we've seen a decline in service. And that's unacceptable.

SHAPIRO: I mean, more broadly, as you note, he has cut overtime. Postal workers say mail-sorting machines have been removed. This all creates a backlog of mail. What are you hearing from your constituents?

TESTER: Exactly that. In fact, I've got a neighbor here a stone's throw from where I'm sitting right now that needed some prescription drugs, ordered them two weeks ahead of time. By the time she got them, she was down to one day left. She had called me and asked me what was going on with the Postal Service. And quite frankly, the only explanation for this is intentionally trying to make the Postal Service go away. And I just think that's bad for the country, and it's certainly bad for rural America.

SHAPIRO: You've introduced a bill to provide $25 billion in emergency funding to the Postal Service, and President Trump just said he would not veto such funding if it reached his desk. Do you think there's any chance of getting enough support from Senate Republicans to pass?

TESTER: Well, I would hope so. I mean, this shouldn't be a partisan issue. This should be, you know, a service to America. But you never know. I mean, it seems like Mitch McConnell is running the Senate with an iron fist. And whatever he says, the rank and file just step in the line. And Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump have been pretty much hand in hand through just about every policy over the last three and a half years.

SHAPIRO: So we're 80 days from the election. Just today we learned that 46 states were warned some absentee ballots or mail-in ballots might come in too late to be counted. What do you think these changes are going to do vis-a-vis Americans' ability to exercise their right to vote?

TESTER: Well, I think it could certainly take away from our ability to get people's votes in and be counted properly. I don't think that's good for democracy, especially in a country that prides itself on a system where everybody has the opportunity to vote for their elected leaders. And I just think it's bad. It sets a bad example, and it's a bad direction for the country to be going in.

SHAPIRO: You said you don't know whether Senate Republicans are going to back this funding bill that you've proposed. Is there anything else that you can do, that concerned Americans, that elected officials can do right now?

TESTER: Well, right now, I tell you, if you've got any good ideas, Ari, I'm all ears. I will give them the funding. Hopefully that will make it through the process. Then the question becomes, will the postmaster general even use the funding, or will he just sit on it? We allocated $10 billion in loan money in the CARES Act. And I know it's available, but I don't think any of it has been utilized yet by the Postal Service while they continue to diminish the Postal Service by taking boxes out, taking sorting machines and shutting them off. I just don't know what the long-term plan here is other than just denying people their prescription drugs and their Social Security checks and their right to vote.

SHAPIRO: That's Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana speaking with us from the combine on his farm. We will let you get back to the harvest. Thank you very much, Senator.

TESTER: Ari, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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