By: Sara Avery
Thousands of North Carolinians are opting for mail-in ballots for the 2020 presidential election due to mounting concerns about the safety of in-person voting during the coronavirus pandemic. As of September 3, 2020, about 535,000 voters have requested absentee ballots, which is more than 15 times the number of requests submitted at this time in 2016, according to the North Carolina State Board of Elections (NCSBE).
However, not all residents are choosing to vote by mail. Many are still casting their ballot in-person, citing concerns of potential election tampering.
"I noticed on the news that they were talking about how Trump doesn't want mail-in ballots and how mailboxes are being taken away," said North Carolina resident Hannah Escala. "I really think he's capable of manipulating the election."
Nasje Alexander, also a N.C. resident, agrees.
"I have a slight concern that [ballots] won't be counted in time. Hopefully, (the U.S. Postal Service) can have some kind of check point to ensure that absentee ballots are accounted for," she said.
In many larger cities in the state, residents have experienced mail slowdowns and have even seen the removal of mail sorting machines. This comes after Postmaster General Louis DeJoy ordered more than 650 machines removed across the nation, though he said it was part of a long-term plan.
DeJoy, a top Trump donor, was appointed as postmaster in May. Since his start, he has enacted sweeping changes to the postal service, including eliminating employee overtime and mandating that couriers return at the end of their shift, even if they have not finished their route.
He claims that these measures were taken to cut costs after the Postal Service lost $2 billion dollars in the second quarter of this year.
"Our financial position is dire, stemming from substantial declines in mail volume, a broken business model and a management strategy that has not adequately addressed these issues," DeJoy told the USPS Board of Governors. "Without dramatic change, there is no end in sight, and we face an impending liquidity crisis."
However, several lawmakers have accused him of ulterior motives, saying he has a conflict of interest. DeJoy still owns several million dollars' worth of stocks in XPO Logistics, a contracting company for the postal service.
Additionally, DeJoy has been accused of colluding with Trump to attempt to privatize the service, something conservatives have discussed for years. His opponents cite his firing of two executives who oversaw day-to-day operations, as well as President Trump's blatant blocking of funds to the postal service in order to delay processing mail-in ballots.
Several house representatives, including Gerald Connolly (D-Va.), chair of the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations, believe that conservatives will ultimately use the ensuing dysfunction of the postal service to discourage citizen use and promote privatization.
DeJoy has maintained good intentions, but that was not enough to convince Postal Service Inspector General, Tammy Whitcomb, who opened a federal ethics investigation.
House Democrats also wanted to question DeJoy and called him to an Oversight Committee hearing to discuss the extensive changes that he has enacted in his short tenure.
During the hearing, he had several tense exchanges with Democratic Representatives including Rep. Katie Porter (D-Ca.) who grilled DeJoy on his basic knowledge of the agency. He also clashed with Rep. Steven Lynch (D-Ma.) who questioned DeJoy's motives.
"After 240 years of patriotic service delivering the mail, how can one person screw this up in just a few weeks," Lynch said to DeJoy. "Based on what you have actually done...as a fact finder, we can only reach two conclusions. One, either through gross incompetence, you have ended the 240-year history of delivering the mail reliably on time. Or the second conclusion that we can gather, is that you're doing this on purpose."
Lynch also bluntly asked DeJoy if he would reinstall the mail sorting machines, to which DeJoy replied, "No, I will not."
However, he is considering reversing that decision after at least 20 attorney generals, including North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, sued the service.
"The Postal Service is a foundational American institution, and one that is vital to our daily lives," Stein said on his official website. "The Postal Service is how we pay bills, get our medications, and conduct business. But we especially need the Postal Service to be delivering mail on time during a pandemic and weeks before an election that will see more North Carolinians voting by mail than ever before. I will fight to ensure that the Postal Service is preserved, and every North Carolinian's vote is counted."
Despite the lawsuit, President Trump has continued to wage a war against the Postal System stating that mail-in ballots in this election will lead to widespread voter fraud. However, there is no evidence to support his claim, as the overall rate for voter fraud is between 0.00004 percent and 0.00009 percent, according to a 2017 study by the Brennan Center for Justice.
It appears that the Trump campaign knows this, as they have begun sending out absentee ballot request forms to supporters in battleground states like North Carolina, where Trump narrowly beat Clinton by 3.67 percent in 2016.
Michael Grether, a high school history teacher and NC resident, said that his parents received a letter in the mail from the president stating how "safe" absentee voting is. The mailer also encouraged voters to turn in their ballot by October 27 to ensure that it can be processed in time.
"What they're saying in public is different than what they're saying in private," he said. "Choose one, the national narrative or the private narrative."
He also has friends who work in data management for the post office who have told him that the likelihood of ballots being manipulated is very low.
"There are security checks each step of the way that are built to prevent tampering," he said. "The rooms where the ballots are put in, have poll workers from each party to watch the ballots."
Grether hopes that American citizens will see what is happening with the postal service and the election and will challenge their representatives to do something.
"It's a democracy, and people need to realize that if we want something to be a certain way, we need to step up, take action, make our voice heard, and put pressure on those in power to make sure something happens," he said. "The people on the left are Americans. The people on the right are Americans. Each side has a right to a voice and a fair election."