Don’t believe the hype: U.S. Postal Service ‘has capacity and capability’ to deliver mail-in ballots

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The Post Office on Goffs Falls Road is the state’s central mail processing hub.

MANCHESTER, NH – Sorting through the facts around the US Postal Service’s capacity to handle an influx of mail-in ballots this election cycle is almost as easy for Dana Coletti as managing the crush of Christmas cards and letters that annually descend on postal processing centers around the country.

Coletti is President of American Postal Workers Union Manchester Area Local 230, and also serves as state president of the organization representing workers who process the mail.

The facts are clear, Coletti says: NH Postal workers will have no trouble processing ballots.

“The narrative they’re trying to spell out in the media is nonsense,” he says, doing the hypothetical math to spell it out. 

Take the 158 million registered voters across the U.S., multiply that by the two pieces of mail they would each need to vote – requesting an absentee ballot from their city clerk and then mailing it back – and that’s only if every registered voter decided to vote, and also bypassed the option of downloading a ballot from a home computer or hand-delivering their ballot to the clerk’s office.

“So that’s a hypothetical 316 million pieces of mail. There is no question, even with the current efforts by the U.S. Postal Service to try to impact our capabilities, there’s no question we have the capability and capacity to do this,” Coletti says. “Every Christmas we process approximately half a billion pieces of mail – between cards and letters and packages – it’s the big one. Each year we get 500 million pieces of mail to where it’s going. This is a fraction of that.” 

Any discussion that absentee voting could cripple the U.S. Postal service is nothing more than a fear tactic, says Coletti. 

Despite criticism of the motives of newly-appointed postmaster general, Louis DeJoy – including by Coletti – even he has publicly reinforced his full confidence in the postal service’s ability to manage the anticipated increase in mail associated with mail-in voting due to COVID-19.

Getting the facts out there is important to Coletti, no stranger to the constant pressures associated with the job of being a postal worker.

“They are absolutely trying to stoke fear in the American public. The postal service has the infrastructure to do this — the staff, the machines –  even with them removing them from our processing facility, they’re trying to paint a picture of these dire circumstances. It’s just not true,” Coletti says. “When’s last time you heard about Christmas cards being jeopardized by the postal service’s lack of capacity to deliver?”

And while all mail is equal in the eyes of those who process it, whether it’s someone’s monthly utility bill, a paycheck, or Christmas card, certainly an election ballot carries with it a bit more weight. So if we trust the U.S. mail to get grandma her birthday card on time, we should certainly expect a ballot to make it from your local dropbox to the local city clerk’s office without fail. 

Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean without delay.

One of two AFSM100 sorting machines was recently removed from the Manchester postal processing facility on Goffs Falls Road, reducing processing capacity by 50 percent, says APW Manchester Area Local 230 President Dana Coletti.

Removal of processing machines in Manchester

Due to recent changes here in New Hampshire and around the country enacted by the new postmaster general, Coletti says there is a deliberate effort to slow down the mail.

“We received notification from the postal service that they are eliminating at least five machines from the Manchester processing plant, one is an AFSM100, an automated flat sorting machine, we have two of them. They reduced them by one so they’ve eliminated 50 percent of our processing capability because they sold one of our machines,” Coletti explains. 

The machine was shut down and cordoned off but remains in the building. “Whoever bought it has to physically remove it themselves as part of the sale agreement. Right now it’s just sitting there,” he says of the machine which sorts things like magazines, legal-size envelopes, bulk business mail and store circulars.

Also gone, two DBCS machines – a bar-code sorter, which sorts letters for carriers to be delivered to residential mailboxes across the state.

“We have 14 of these machines, they’re eliminating two, possibly three, so that’s about a 20 percent reduction in sorting capability of these machines,” Coletti says.

A third machine, AFCS for Advanced Facer Canceler System – is one of the first machines your mail encounters. Used to cull, face, and cancel letter mail, once you drop a letter in a mailbox anywhere in the state it’s brought to the post office for sorting. The AFCS puts the mail in order for processing so that it’s not upside-down or backward. Eliminating this machine represents a 25 percent reduction in sorting capacity.

American Postal Workers Union Manchester Area Local 230 President Dana Coletti during a 2018 Save the Post Office rally at City Hall in Manchester. Courtesy Photo

Erosion of Public Trust

Another cause for concern among New Hampshire postal workers is a new policy implemented a few weeks ago – ESAS for Expedited to Street/Afternoon Sortation, which is also slowing down processing at the packaging center located in Nashua.  

“Historically if you’re sorting mail in a processing plant, on occasion a machine might break down so mail processing is delayed by an hour or half an hour. Normally, we can get the machine up and running in a short time and things are back to normal,” Coletti says. 

But ESAS dictates that if truck dispatch time is 6 a.m and the mail is not ready until 6:10 a.m. the truck leaves without it. In theory, it gets carriers out on the streets earlier.

“Right out of the gate we’re talking about a delay. So if that mail was to go to an associate office, say in Fremont, instead it’s spending another day at the plant in Nashua. In the past, they’d do an extra trip by hiring a box truck to send the mail to Fremont, something they’d have to pay for, but that’s the cost of doing business. Now, that mail is already a day late, and it may be compounded further if it’s the day after a holiday. That may not be critical for a home delivery, but for a business, these delays can be substantial,” Coletti says.

In essence, it will result in service that operates like having a holiday two or three times a week.  

“It’s crippling customer service, which by the way is built into our name – the U.S. Postal Service. We’re providing a service to our country and they’re trying to destroy that,” Coletti says.

For clarification, the “they” in that sentence is those making policy, specifically DeJoy, says Coletti.

“My position on this – and I’ve worked for the Service for 30 years so I have a good grasp on the mechanics of processing the mail – there is no logical reason for eliminating these machines or new policies. Their position is that it’s to make the postal service more efficient. I don’t understand how reducing processing capability makes anything more efficient,” Coletti says.

Under the new policies there is no longer an official expectation of how long it should take a piece of mail to reach its destination, Coletti says. 

“They’ve effectively eliminated service standards. Generally, a reasonable expectation would have been that if you drop a letter in a New Hampshire mailbox that is going to Pennsylvania on a Monday it would be there by Friday. And while that might still happen today, with the elimination of service standards a few years ago, all that changed,” Coletti says.

Despite efforts by some lawmakers to reinstate service standards, so far that hasn’t been successful, and such delays contribute to the erosion of public trust in the U.S. mail. 

The U.S. Postal Service outlines its universal service obligation as a main thrust of its mission as a governmental entity through legislation and statutes, which means in a world of delivery options,  it is the only carrier obligated to provide all aspects of universal service at affordable prices to the public.

“In my opinion they’re trying to destroy it by eliminating trust with the American public,” Coletti says. 

It’s not the first time over the postal service’s history, and yet, among governmental agencies, the U.S. mail service has maintained a 90 percent approval rating over the past 10 years. 

He believes the end game is a selling-off of the postal service’s most lucrative parts to privatization, which would eliminate postal service jobs – many of which go to disabled veterans by design, who rely on a secure job with health benefits, retirement and a liveable wage.

“In mostly a rural state like New Hampshire, if they sell off lucrative parts of the service, we might still get universal service in cities and bigger towns like Manchester, Nashua and Concord because the population is living in a condensed area. But if you get up to places like Fitzwilliam, Pittsburg or Rye beach, there’s no guarantee that there is universal service, yet we have a mandate for universal service.”

Reports of slowed mail delivery and cuts in overtime have resulted in a Senate investigation launched by U.S. Sen. Gary Peters of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Postmaster General Says He’s About Fixing the System

Louise Dejoy, US Postmaster General

Louis DeJoy became the nation’s 75th Postmaster General and CEO of the U.S. Postal Service by appointment on June 15. During an Aug. 7, 2020 address to USPS Board of Governors, DeJoy outlined the task at hand, which is a “transformative process” of the existing postal service, beleaguered by financial strain.

He cited more than a decade of financial losses, with FY 2019 approaching $9 billion and 2020 closing in on $11 billion in losses. “Without dramatic change, there is no end in sight, and we face an impending liquidity crisis,” DeJoy said.

With a focus on operational processes, DeJoy proposed much-needed operational efficiencies and reforms which he said have been delayed by Congress and the Postal Commission.

“Drama and delay does not get the mail delivered on time, nor does it pay our bills.  Without timely legislative and regulatory reform, we will be forced to take aggressive measures to cut costs and bridge the divide,” DeJoy said.

“If we want to be viable for the long term, it is absolutely imperative for the Postal Service to operate efficiently and effectively while continuing to provide service that fulfills our universal service mandate and meets the needs of our customers… There are competitive alternatives to every product that we offer, and for that reason high-quality, reasonably-priced service is an absolute necessity, but it is equally important for us to embrace the reality that high-quality service and efficient service are not mutually exclusive, but instead must go hand-in-hand if we are going to keep pace with our competition and be self-sustaining, as our mandate requires,” he said.

Coletti rejects DeJoy’s oversimplification of the postal service’s financial straits and his desire to right the ship for the good of postal workers and the public.

“Louis Dejoy and his wife have $30 million invested in our direct competitors. He will get millions more if he can split-up services and sell off to USPS competitors. It’s disheartening to those whose main concern is what’s going to happen to the service. We’re the largest employer of disabled veterans – what will they do if they have to go out into the regular workforce? There’s a chance they might not get hired. That’s a legitimate and serious concern that is lost on the headlines,” Coletti says.

“And there are still people who don’t realize that zero tax dollars go to post office. It’s self-funded. Taxes haven’t paid for postal services in 30 years,” unlike other governmental agencies. Compounded by the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006, which mandated the postal service pay 100 percent of retirement benefits and health premiums for employees – a mandate which continues today.

It’s a mandate that keeps the postal service in the red, Coletti says. 

“No other government agency or private company is held to that standard. Normally it would be 12-15 percent for retirement benefits and health premiums for private companies. You pre-fund it and it generates the interest you use to pay it off. If they eliminated the PAEA the US Postal Service would have been in the black every year since 2006.  It’s money that could have been used for machinery updates, vehicle updates and infrastructure; that’s crippling for us. The narrative is we’re losing money – on the surface arguably they are, if that mandate was refused we’d be making money every year,” Coletti says.

DeJoy in his remarks underscored a few things – among them, that the postal service was committed to making sure election ballots were handled with the timely professionalism with which they handle all U.S. mail, and also that he was not appointed to privatize or dismantle the postal service.

“I accept the responsibility that the Governors gave me to maintain and enhance our reputation and role as a trusted face of the federal government in every community, and I intend to work with postal executives, management associations, managers, union leadership, and our craft employees to do everything I can to put us back on a financially stable path. I am confident that we can chart a path forward that allows the Postal Service to fulfill our vital public service mission in a sustainable manner.  I look forward to the challenge, and know we are up to it,” he said.

Once you file an absentee ballot you can track it via the NH Secretary of State website.

Back to the Question of Absentee Ballots

When asked to put himself into the new postmaster general’s shoes and explain the logical reasons for the removal of processing machinery and drop boxes from Manchester and other processing facilities across the country, Coletti takes a thoughtful pause.

“What is the opposite argument? I can’t think of a legitimate argument that justifies it,” he says.

“If you want to take logic out of our postal bill of rights, there really is no justification for it

You don’t eliminate machines to justify service – Louis DeJoy says we want to take the postal service into the next century. OK, if true, how is reducing our ability to do what we do making it more viable? They’ve produced no documentation that would support their policies, so I’m really at a loss to understand it,” Coletti says.

Which brings him back to the looming task of processing election ballots.

“The most important thing is all people have a tendency to procrastinate, so if you want to do a mail-in ballot, do it sooner than later, don’t wait until last minute,” Coletti says, acknowledging that he knows there are many people who, despite the concerns around COVID-19, which prompted the statewide ability to cast an absentee ballot, there are still many who want to go and cast a vote in person on election day. 

“No matter how you do it, if you don’t vote you’re not heard. Not to get political, but regardless of your affiliation – and I say this as someone who supports candidates who support our unions – but in the end, we want everyone to vote. And we want everyone who votes by mail to know that, here in New Hampshire, your vote will be counted because  – even if they take away our machines or delay regional delivery – our postal workers will do whatever we have to do to get the mail to where it needs to be.” 

About this Author

carol-robidoux

Carol Robidoux

PublisherManchester Ink Link

Longtime NH journalist and publisher of ManchesterInkLink.com. Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!