Hey, everyone. I don't have much for you today, as I think we are all a bit too distracted and nervous to focus on a long email about the post office. So, for today, I want to address two small items.
A few people asked to see the data from last week's graph. The Google Sheet I've been working from and the graph itself are here. I've updated both with the October 17 data, the most recent weekly performance data available. I also added a dotted red line for the on-time performance nationally. As you can see, the USPS didn't do so hot the most recent week.
If you want to dive even deeper, Save the Post Office has been keeping a folder of all the data USPS has released as part of its court cases.
In addition to the weekly data, the USPS has been releasing daily performance figures as ordered by a Federal judge, but the USPS argues the data is not reliable. Specifically with regards to election mail, the data doesn't capture ballots taken out of the mail stream so they can bypass sorting facilities and go straight to the local elections office. This is exactly what you'd want the USPS to be doing even though it makes the data look worse. For that reason, I'm not paying much attention to the daily numbers.
On Saturday, Vice President of Processing and Maintenance Operations Michael Barber was called to testify in the trio of court cases that have been most important for USPS operations. His testimony largely consisted of what the USPS had left to do to get ballots to where they are going and if there's anything the court should make them do because they're not doing it already.
"No, we have deployed everything," Barber said. "It's about execution at this time."
The "everything" Barber is referring to are the so-called "extraordinary measures" USPS outlined in October but a judge ordered them to implement last week, including tons of overtime and more late and extra truck trips (again, as ordered by the court). All of the policies are in place that you would hope are in place to ensure ballots get where they need to go as quickly as possible.
But good policies only get you so far. The good policies have to actually get relayed by competent managers and implemented by actual employees. The USPS's biggest challenge at the moment is that it doesn't have enough said employees. Staff shortages around the country due to long-standing austerity policies and COVID-related absences have the agency short-handed just when we need it most.
Obviously, this isn't true solely about the post office. It is true of every Board of Elections, Secretary of State office, and any other office involved in the election process. It is also true of every other public institution no matter what service it provides. But the post office has proven an especially potent example in recent weeks, because all sides agree on what the post office should be doing. Yet, this doesn't answer the question of what the post office is actually doing.
Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of the U.S. District Court in DC has tried to wade through the statistics and testimony to figure that out. I have too. And the upshot is it's very hard! Anecdotally, I've heard around the country these extra trips and policies are being implemented, but it only takes a few exceptions to sound the alarm about voting integrity.
Through the court documents, I get the feeling even USPS officials aren't entirely sure what's happening on the ground. In an organization as large as the USPS, policies get set so many levels above implementation that finding out what is actually occurring is the adult version of a game of Telephone. This is especially so when the daily statistics, as mentioned above, are essentially meaningless.
For example, after a video was posted on Twitter showing a few dozen pieces of election mail sitting in a postal facility in south Florida, the court ordered the USPS to launch an immediate investigation and report back on its findings. On Monday night, the USPS reported to the court there was a backlog of “approximately 180,000 delayed mail pieces” in the facility, including 62 ballots, all but one have since been delivered. I’m not sure which scenario would speak worse of the USPS: that management knew of the 180,000-piece backlog at one facility or if it didn’t.
Fortunately, these 62 ballots in Florida appear to be a relatively isolated incident. Ironically, a big reason for that is probably because the USPS has been so poor in recent months that many Americans didn't trust it to begin with. That may be a good thing in the end for electoral purposes. Yet, I can't help but wonder what it will mean for the USPS in the long run. People tend to support institutions they trust. I don't know how the USPS can go about winning that trust back. But, however it goes about doing so, good policies won't be enough. It will be, as Barber said, about execution.