NATIONWIDE — Former President Barack Obama says he’s worried about the integrity of the presidential election after his successor, Donald Trump, said Thursday he would block funding for the U.S. Postal Service that he knows is needed to help with widespread mail-in voting.
Obama's comments come on the same day news broke that the USPS sent 46 states and D.C. letters warning about potential election problems.
"What we've never seen before is a president say, 'I'm going to try to actively kneecap the Postal Service to encourage voting, and I will be explicit about the reason I'm doing it,'” Obama said on the "Campaign HQ" podcast, hosted by his former campaign manager, David Plouffe.
“So in that circumstance, the thing I'm most worried about is … how do we protect the integrity of the election process?” Obama added. “How do we make sure that people's votes are counted? How do we police and monitor how state officials are setting up polling places and ensuring that every vote is counted?”
Despite the fact that he and first lady Melania have requested their own mail-in ballots in Florida, Trump has repeatedly and increasingly railed against widespread voting by mail, saying, without evidence, that it will result in a fraudulent election result. In an interview with Fox Business on Thursday, the president said he is firmly opposed to additional funding for the financially ailing Postal Service, acknowledging that his position will make it more difficult for Americans to vote by mail during the coronavirus pandemic.
In the now-stalled coronavirus relief talks, Democrats were seeking $3.6 billion for mail-in voting and $25 billion for the USPS, a demand they say they’ve since lowered to $10 billion.
"Those are just two items. But if they don't get those two items, that means you can't have universal mail-in voting because they're not equipped to have it," Trump told Fox Business.
At his White House briefing later Thursday, Trump backed down somewhat, saying he would sign legislation with Postal Service funding. He, however, continued to express reservations about helping the agency with mail-in balloting and said he would not order his new postmaster general to reverse some of the policies that Democrats have say undermine the reliability of the Postal Service.
With Trump trailing Joe Biden in most nationwide polls, Democrats fear the president is using the Postal Service to help his re-election chances by suppressing the vote or to set the stage to dispute the results if he loses. Among their concerns is that the president appointed Louis DeJoy, a GOP megadonor and Trump ally, as postmaster general. Since taking over the agency in June, DeJoy has implemented sweeping changes — including cutting overtime and removing hundreds of high-volume sorting machines — that have been blamed for slower mail deliveries.
Not surprisingly, the National Association of Letter Carriers, the union that represents postal workers, endorsed the Biden/Kamala Harris ticket Thursday.
“Vice President Biden is – was – and will continue to be – a fierce ally and defender of the United States Postal Service (USPS), letter carriers, and our fellow postal brothers and sisters,” the NALC said.
Across the country, the U.S. Postal Service is painting a potentially grim picture for millions of Americans – the USPS sent detailed letters to 46 states and Washington, D.C., warning them that they cannot guarantee all ballots sent by mail will be counted, according to a Washington Post report.
Pennsylvania officials say they are willing to count mail-in ballots up to three days after Election Day provided they were mailed on or before Nov. 3. The extension comes after the Postal Service said in a letter to State Secretary Kathy Boockvar that there was "a risk that ballots requested near the deadline under state law will not be returned by mail in time to be counted under your laws as we understand them."
Mail-in ballots can be requested up to seven days before the election in Pennsylvania. In past elections, state law has required mail-in votes to be received by 8 p.m. on election days. State Democrats are trying to stretch the extension for counting votes to seven days.
The USPS also has warned California that there is a “significant risk” that new voters there won’t receive their ballots in time to return them by the state’s deadline — postmarked on Election Day.
In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy said Friday the state will mail ballots to all registered voters for the presidential election while still offering the option to vote in person.
An Axios/SurveyMonkey poll released Friday found that nearly a quarter of respondents are not confident their mail-in ballots will be counted this fall, while four in 10 worry mail-in voting could yield less reliable results.