Democracy Initiative Update 05.12.20

Tuesday, May 12, 2020
Our highlighted issues and actions from the democracy movement in this moment of crisis—please share widely.

TAKE ACTION: COVID RELIEF $$ FOR THE POST OFFICE

The Democracy Initiative is supporting partners American Postal Workers Union (APWU) and National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) to secure $25 billion in emergency federal funds for the United States Postal Service (USPS)—critical infrastructure for democracy—in the next COVID relief bill. Congressional votes on a new funding package are expected in the next couple of weeks, so now is the time to show our support for the USPS.

On May 12, the House of Representatives proposed a new emergency funding bill which includes $25 billion for the USPS, so all eyes are on the Senate. There is some bipartisan support among Senators for the USPS but in the current divisive climate, the USPS needs our help.

Please activate your members right away. Urge them to send an email to their Senators calling on them to support the USPS with funding using our online action portal or create your own action alert using the following sample message:

The U.S. Postal Service provides a lifeline for millions of Americans and critical infrastructure for our democracy. Without relief funds, the USPS is just a few months away from running out of money - at a time when millions of Americans are relying on their local post office to deliver everything from mail-in ballots to life-saving medications.

Congress must strengthen and protect the U.S. Postal Service in the next COVID-19 emergency package by including $25 billion in relief funds to help this American icon get through the recession.

The following states are top priorities for this action: AZ, CO, IA, KY, ME, MO, NC, SD, TX and WY. If you have affiliates in these states who can engage local activists and coalitions in support of the USPS, please contact DI National Field Manager Getachew Kassa at gkassa@democracyinitiative.org.

BACKGROUND

WHY IS THE USPS IMPORTANT TO DEMOCRACY?

Critical Infrastructure for Democracy, for Vote by Mail, and much more
Our universal postal service, dating back to 1775 and enshrined in the Constitution, is one of the oldest and most unifying and inclusive institutions of our democracy. The USPS facilitates the free flow of information, correspondence, goods and services to every American regardless of geographic location. The post office is critical infrastructure in our democracy, delivering essential civic information and tools including: critical information about in-person voting locations, candidates and ballot questions, mailings for voter registration, delivering and returning mail ballots and census forms. The USPS also created and maintains the zip code system—a foundational building block in our governance system, providing reference data for polling precincts, legislative districts and the statistical data from the census that underpins spending on social programs.

Impact on People of Color
Letting the COVID crisis harm the USPS is another way the pandemic will hit Black, Brown and marginalized communities the hardest – unacceptable in our vision for an inclusive democracy. For starters, 40 percent of the 630,000 employees are people of color who would lose their paychecks, benefits and stability if the USPS goes under. More impacts of a USPS shut-down on people of color and marginalized communities were described in a recent post from Colorlines:

Many people of color, especially Black and Latinx folks who live in poor, rural communities, use USPS’ last-mile deliveries to get crucial materials such as face masks. Black and Latinx people with disabilities, who make up over 55 percent of the disabled community, also rely on USPS for affordable delivery of necessities like medication. For Indigenous folks who live on remote lands, USPS is a direct connection between their communities and other people throughout the United States. Many people of color also use USPS locations to have access to government services such as passport applications. According to USPS, 6.6 million passport applications were accepted at Post Offices in 2019. For those who don’t have bank accounts or want a secure transfer and/or payment of funds, USPS has often been the cheap and reliable way to send widely-accepted, affordable money orders that never expire.

In a time where many businesses are shutting down, the Postal Service needs material support now more than ever. Though seemingly unimaginable, the USPS’ closure will dramatically push people of color further into the margins, losing the things they need for survival, from fast and dependable communication with loved ones to basic necessities to decent jobs and benefits.

USPS: Beloved American Icon
This is not a partisan issue. Recent polling from Hart Research Associates & North Star Opinion Research showed that “when voters learn that USPS is expected to run out of operating funds by September, fully 92% of all voters support congressional action, including 90% of Republicans and 96% of Democrats. Agreement is very widespread encompassing every region of the country and all generations of Americans.”

The House is on record in support of providing COVID relief funds to the USPS, so all eyes are on the Senate. There is bipartisan support for the USPS but in the current divisive climate, the USPS needs our help.

WHY DOES THE USPS NEED THE MONEY NOW?

USPS—Hit Hard by COVID
Mail revenues are down by at least 30% from this time last year and costs are up, creating a grave and rapidly deteriorating financial situation for the USPS and a looming crisis for the nation. But, in the last emergency funding bill, President Trump blocked necessary USPS support, threatening to veto the entire package, despite more than $500 billion in bailout funding for corporations and is continuing to attack the Post Office and threatening deny emergency support unless they increase rates by 400%.

Despite the current crisis, this iconic American institution continues to provide vital services to the nation. As Americans shelter at home during the COVID crisis, the 630,000 employees of the United States Postal Service (USPS) are delivering stimulus checks and tax refunds, masks, gloves, prescription medications and other supplies to 160 million urban, suburban, rural and remote households. These are front-line workers who are risking their health to provide these essential services and there are more than 1200 confirmed COVID-19 infections so far.

TRUMP ATTACKS ON THE USPS

President Trump’s current attacks on the USPS are part of a larger strategy to privatize this indispensable service. The Trump Administration proposed to sell the USPS in the Office of Management and Budget report Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century. That plan would end regular mail and package services at one affordable price for everyone regardless of where they live. Eliminating the universal service obligation—requiring the Postal Service to deliver daily to all 160 million addresses—would be a dagger aimed at the heart America, especially rural communities and the elderly who depend on the mail for 1.2 billion prescription medications annually. It also would significantly disrupt e-commerce at a time when the US economy faces serious challenges.

Most recently, an inexperienced, multi-million-dollar top Republican and Trump donor, Louis DeJoy, was appointed as the 75th Postmaster General. This appointment comes at a troubling time and it remains to be seen how he will respond to the challenges, it is clear that Congress must step up and provide immediate support to ensure that the USPS survives COVID-19 and take care of postal workers.

VOTE BY MAIL PRESS CONFERENCE

The National Vote at Home Institute (NVAHI) and the DI co-hosted a joint press conference along with Bipartisan Policy Center, Bridge Alliance, and Common Cause around the release of NVAHI’s recent white paper detailing the latest research and best practices on how to ensure equity in vote by mail systems. DI Executive Director Wendy Fields spoke at the press conference alongside speakers from partners and allies including League of Women Voters, National Disability Rights Network, and the National LGBTQ Task Force, speaking to specific community impacts and the urgent need for greater mail ballot access among disenfranchised populations.

Here is the complete text of Wendy’s remarks delivered at the May 4 press conference:

“We start from the premise that a fully participatory election strengthens our democracy and our communities. Every voter must have access to the ballot and have their vote counted. During this pandemic, voters and election workers must be protected. No individual can be left behind in the 2020 Elections regardless of zip code, class or status. Government is making life and death decisions that affect all of us. Voting gives us a voice in those decisions. There is no better time for all states to join Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Utah who have 21st century voting that includes Vote by Mail.

I speak on behalf of the Democracy Initiative’s 72 partners – labor unions, civil rights organizations, environmental, immigration and other social justice groups – who have been fighting for Vote by Mail for years – including LGBTQ Task Force and League of Women Voters who are also speaking today. Many of our collective 45 million members are essential workers and advocates on the front lines of the pandemic crisis. They are Black, Brown and White, immigrants, people with disabilities, LGBTQ individuals. Many of them, along with their families, are among the 34 million unemployed, and vulnerable to the most devastating consequences of COVID-19.

Yet, even while they are fighting for their people on the front lines, I hear from our leaders at the local and state level, especially leaders of color, every day. They demand access and equity in voting. Thousands of them are volunteer poll monitors and supporters of election clerks. They want to do their civic duty safely.

Our leaders see voters in Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Utah voting safely and securely at home, mailing ballots back with pre-paid postage, or dropping them in a convenient neighborhood ballot box and they say: We want that too.

I welcome the new research presented here today by the National Vote at Home Institute. I am not at all surprised to learn that voting by mail, when there is planning and strong infrastructure, is popular and increases voter participation across all demographics. It is a common-sense reform that reduces lines and cuts down on crowded polling places, which in turn helps to keep in-person voters and election workers safe for those that need that option.

Recent independent polling from the Pew Research Center shows that 70% of Americans believe that any voter should be able to vote by mail if they want to. This is not partisan issue. This is about finding the political will to do the right thing.

Governors must move quickly to work with state and local elections officials to make the necessary changes. But state and local governments cannot be expected to fund this election on their already maxed out budgets from dealing with the health and economic crisis. It is the federal government’s responsibility to make safeguarding the election part of the public-health crisis funding. So far, Congress has only appropriated $400 million – nowhere near enough.

This nation has a long and ugly history of trying to keep people of color from exercising their political power by voting and a history of low turnout elections. Corporations are receiving trillions of our hard-earned tax dollars while an American icon like the US Postal Service suffers the fall-out from COVID-19 and partisan political games. But let’s remember, government stands to get a report card this November. Imagine what that report card would look like if 75% of Americans voted.

Let’s rise together in this moment and call on Congress to fund safe voting, expand vote by mail including prepaid postage, and support the Post Office so our trusted postal workers can carry our ballots in November. Our democracy depends on it.”

You can watch the conference recording here. Also, check out this additional new research, released after the press conference, showing how mail-in voting in Colorado has increased voter participation for everyone, across all demographics.

TAKE ACTION
DI recently published a column, entitled “Everyone Should Be Able to Vote by Mail, Especially in a Pandemic,” on the urgent need for expanding Vote by Mail equitably alongside common-sense voting reforms such as safe, disinfected in-person voting options, online and same-day voter registration, and comprehensive voter education. You can read the piece here. We encourage you to share the column on social media and with your membership as part of your advocacy for safe voting options.

DI BOARD MEMBERS ON THE MOVE

Last Thursday, May 7, DI partner Common Cause hosted a webinar featuring Senators Klobuchar (D-MI) and Wyden (D-OR) alongside DI Board Co-Chair and Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn.

The webinar covered challenges facing the country as it prepares for pivotal elections under the unique threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Panelists addressed the pandemic’s effects on our election processes and how it contributes to voter suppression efforts happening across the country. In her introduction, Hobert Flynn reiterated the call for emergency funding from the federal government along with an array of pro-voter reforms to ensure safe access to the ballot, including expanded Vote by Mail, online voter registration, extended early voting, and safe Election Day voting for those who need it.

You can watch a recording of the webinar here, courtesy of Common Cause.

DEMOCRACY IN THE NEWS: STATE UPDATES

MISSOURI REPUBLICANS ATTEMPT TO GUT REDISTRICTING BALLOT INITIATIVE
In 2018, voters in Missouri overwhelmingly supported the Clean Missouri ballot initiative, a measure that reformed the redistricting process to prevent excessive gerrymandering and appoint a nonpartisan demographer to assist in creating fair district maps—a major win for ensuring fair political representation for all Missourians.

Now, using the COVID-19 pandemic as cover, state Republicans are attempting to undermine the will of voters by overturning the measure. Missouri Senators have recently approved a new ballot measure that eliminates the demographer, returns power to draw maps to legislators, and makes it more difficult for courts to strike down gerrymandered districts. It also makes partisan fairness the least important criteria for drawing maps, leaving open the possibility for legislators to draw maps on the basis of voting age citizens—a tactic advanced by the late voter suppression architect and GOP strategist Thomas Hofeller.

Read more here.

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