The USPS is shutting down mail-sorting machines crucial for processing absentee ballots as the 2020 election looms



a person standing in front of a store: Ben Margot/AP


© Ben Margot/AP
Ben Margot/AP

  • The United States Postal Service is deactivating mail-sorting machines at processing centers across the US.
  • At least 19 sorting machines, which can process 35,000 pieces of mail per hour, have been dismantled and removed in recent weeks, postal workers told Motherboard.
  • The president of the Iowa Postal Workers Union and Democratic lawmakers have voiced concerns about sorting machines being dismantled and about sweeping changes to the USPS made by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a top Trump donor who took office earlier this summer.
  • Mail-in voting during the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to cause a surge in mail volume ahead of the 2020 election. President Donald Trump has said he would withhold funding from the USPS to sabotage mail-in voting.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

United States Postal Service workers say mail-sorting machines are being taken apart and removed from distribution facilities across the US, raising concerns about their ability to handle a surge in mail-in ballots for the general election in November.

At least 19 mail-sorting machines, which can process up to 35,000 pieces of mail per hour, have been removed without any explanation, postal workers told Motherboard. And an internal letter published by the USPS in June outlines a plan to remove hundreds of mail-sorting machines from operation this year.

It’s the latest in a series of sweeping changes that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a major donor to President Donald Trump, has made to the agency since taking office earlier this summer. Postal workers and elected officials have said the changes dismantle the US Postal Service and could have devastating effects on the election, when many people are expected to vote by mail because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Kimberly Karol, the president of the Iowa Postal Workers Union, confirmed that machines were being removed and told NPR in an interview this week that DeJoy’s policies were “now affecting the way that we do business and not allowing us to deliver every piece every day.”

In a letter to DeJoy last week, the Democratic congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer said that the removal of mail-sorting machines and other cost-cutting measures “threaten the timely delivery of mail,” including absentee ballots.

In a statement to Business Insider, a USPS representative, Dave Partenheimer, said the notion that mail-sorting machines were being deactivated to sabotage mail-in voting was “erroneous.”

“The Postal Service routinely moves equipment around its network as necessary to match changing mail and package volumes,” Partenheimer said. “Package volume is up, but mail volume continues to decline. Adapting our processing infrastructure to the current volumes will ensure more efficient, cost effective operations and better service for our customers.”

Trump has repeatedly attacked the USPS and its role in the 2020 election, claiming that voting by mail is inherently fraudulent despite evidence that the rate of fraud is extremely low and that mail-in voting doesn’t help or hurt one political party over the other. On Thursday, Trump told Fox Business that he would withhold funding from the USPS to harm mail-in voting.

“They want $25 billion — billion — for the post office. Now 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, adding, “But if they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting.”

DeJoy, a major Trump donor, has overseen sweeping changes at the USPS, slashing its budget amid the COVID-19 pandemic and freezing hiring since he took control of the agency in May.

Postal workers told Motherboard that while it wasn’t unusual for mail-sorting machines to be deactivated or moved among facilities, the timing coincided with Trump’s push to destabilize the USPS before the election.

“When you take out one of the machines, it takes away our ability to respond to unforeseen things that may happen,” Karol told Motherboard.

But experts have said that Trump’s assertion that the USPS won’t be able to process mail-in voting without a larger budget is faulty. Amber McReynolds, the former director of the Denver Elections Division and the CEO of the National Vote At Home Institute, told Business Insider in April that election-related mail likely wouldn’t strain the service.

“The Postal Services estimates they process about 140 billion pieces of mail a year. And when we talk about 250 million mail ballots for, say, every American, that’s only about 0.2% of their normal volume,” she said.

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