The embattled leadership of the U.S. Postal Service warned its elections-integrity task force on Thursday about “issues in the supply chain,” particularly from printers, that risk voters not getting ballots and election mail, according to a recording of the inaugural meeting of the task force acquired by The Daily Beast.
“With the dramatic increase of ballots compared to previous elections, in some cases a tenfold increase in the number of ballots in some states, there are some issues in the supply chain,” a senior USPS official informed the group, which consisted of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and other senior USPS officials.
The official was referring to the process by which approved manufacturers produce ballots, and other vital election mail, to state election officials to distribute to voters. “Some of these printers… just don’t have the capacity they were used to in prior elections,” the official said.
Speaking about deadlines for requesting mail-in ballots that Postal officials worry fall too close to Election Day to be counted, another official was blunt with the group: “Despite the heroic efforts I know you guys will pursue to get that ballot in the hands of voters, the reality is, that’s going to be a difficult situation for that voter to have their vote counted.”
At least one USPS official who attended the task force meeting told The Daily Beast they considered USPS leadership’s warnings of supply-chain disruption ahead of the balloting to be a cover for leadership’s failures.
Issues with the ballot and election mail supply chain ultimately fall to state election officials, said David Partenheimer, a spokesperson for the Postal Service, though he added the agency “does work to assist and educate ballot producers in their mail piece design.”
“The Postal Service will continue with these efforts, but it is unrelated to the Postal Service’s complete readiness to deliver any Election Mail that is presented to us, and we will do so in a timely and secure manner consistent with our longstanding processes and procedures that we have utilized for years,” said Partenheimer.
During the meeting, senior USPS officials, including DeJoy, largely blamed the states for complicating vote-by-mail efforts, complaining on Thursday about what they described as states’ lack of understanding of the mail delivery process. They acknowledged that their recent and highly controversial moves – such as warning election officials in 46 states and the District of Columbia that their deadlines for voters to request ballots by mail jeopardized votes being counted – had opened the agency up to claims of politicization.
In the meeting, DeJoy, a former logistics executive and GOP mega-donor whom voting-rights advocates and Democrats have portrayed as a loyalist out to ensure President Trump’s reelection, urged the USPS elections-integrity task force to stay the course. Decrying the “political rhetoric” aimed at his leadership and the agency’s recent lapses, he encouraged the task force to “be strong on our message.”
Attending the task-force meeting, according to a knowledgeable source, were Postmaster General DeJoy and senior USPS leaders Doug Tulino, the labor-relations chief; communications official Jeff Adams; engineering chief Scott Bombaugh; and chief logistics officer Dave Williams.
Postal officials, Postal workers’ unions, and other experts have, in the face of public concerns, affirmed the Postal Service’s ability to handle a historic volume of mailed ballots due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet specific worries over the mail ballot supply chain, as articulated in Thursday’s meeting, have been rarely made in public.
During Thursday’s meeting, DeJoy and his deputies defended urging the public to request ballots as early as possible. They acknowledged the supply chain issues and expressed frustration to the task force that state deadlines to request mail-in ballots could stick the Postal Service with an impossible task. But despite concerns about vendor capacity, the leadership outlined a public-relations push to “build confidence in the public,” in DeJoy’s words.
Not every member of the task force was satisfied in its operations.
“There’s no reason we shouldn’t be meeting once a week on something of this importance,” a meeting attendee told the group, according to a recording. The attendee compared it to how “in the heat of COVID,” a USPS task force on coronavirus operations met weekly. “Hopefully [we’re] talking on a daily basis [to] make sure everything runs smoothly,” the person said.
“Generally, the feeling is that DeJoy doesn’t know what he’s doing, and his senior staff is not managing him,” a USPS official told The Daily Beast.
During the task force meeting, a senior official was candid in recognizing the controversy now engulfing the USPS: “We were very assiduously trying to avoid becoming a political football. As you can tell, we were not wildly successful in that regard.”
Voting rights advocates argue that the USPS risks disenfranchising voters by warning publicly that states’ ballot-request deadlines—some of which are mere days before the election—are too late for the Postal Service to process before the election. But senior USPS officials at the task force meeting insisted the warnings were necessary due to the experience of this year’s primaries, when thousands of ballots in several states arrived too late.
“In some sense, those letters [sent to the states] got sucked up into the political fray,” admitted a senior Postal Service official during the meeting. “But if you read them, you’ll see our intent was totally pure.” The official reiterated the concern stated in those letters about voters requesting ballots too close to their state deadlines:
Members of the task force also alluded to the expectation that this fall, there may be as many as 10 times more mailed-in ballots than in a normal year. USPS officials, postal union leaders, and other officials have all said that the agency is well-equipped to deal with the influx. But a senior USPS official suggested that state policies that allow voters to request a ballot the day before, such as in Minnesota and Montana, could make that task harder and could risk problems.
“Given the volume we can expect, it probably won’t be a good thing if there’s a massive amount of volume the day before the election,” said the official.
Members of the task force also discussed an upcoming public relations campaign, beginning with TV ads on cable networks on Tuesday, designed to shore up public confidence in the USPS during a critical period. Ads will appear, they said, on ESPN, NFL Network and Bravo.
Noting polling that shows how popular the USPS is with the public, officials said that the thrust of the campaign was to remind the country that the USPS “is always there” and “we’ll continue to deliver the things that matter for the American public.”
Officials also discussed an upcoming mailer that the agency will send to every residence in the country, around 140 million addresses, in mid-September that will urge the public to vote as early as possible. The message, they said, was that the USPS is ready to deliver ballots, and voters need to be ready, too.
In his statement to The Daily Beast, Partenheimer said, “the Postmaster General has made it clear that we are ready to deliver for the November election and are committed to fulfilling our role in the electoral process when public policy makers choose to utilize us as part of their election system.”
The USPS task force meeting comes as the agency faces intense scrutiny from Congress and the public about its ability to facilitate mail-in voting. DeJoy in particular faced questions from Democratic lawmakers about the operational changes that occurred at the USPS under his watch, his ties to Trumpworld, and how he came into the Postmaster General position in July following a selection process that a former USPS Board of Governors member described to lawmakers as irregular.
In August, people nationwide began experiencing notable mail delays when the USPS began implementing a DeJoy-pushed plan to cut costs and boost efficiency. The plan included a shift in transportation schedules—which, for example, led to a delay in 80,000 pieces of mail in Maine—as well as a reduction in USPS mail sorting machines and limits on overtime pay and additional trips for Postal workers.
In testimony before Congress, DeJoy denied being responsible for some of the changes but acknowledged the widespread mail delays under his watch. He said that any sweeping changes would be left until after the November election.
In a statement about the inaugural task force meeting released early Thursday evening, DeJoy said it “reaffirmed my faith that the Postal Service is fully ready, willing and committed to deliver the nation’s Election Mail timely and securely and our organization is completely aligned on fulfilling our important role in the democratic process.”