Three weeks ago, U.S. Postal Service leadership sent an ominous letter to 46 states, including California and Washington. They warned ballot delivery may be delayed, compromising the ability of voters to receive and return their ballots on time. This letter arrived after months of fear mongering from the Trump Administration, including the President’s shocking admission that he was blocking funding to the USPS in order to prevent vote-by-mail.
We are leaders in election administration and security in two states with some of the largest vote-by-mail programs in the country. Here is how we make sure that every ballot will be protected this fall.
Trust But Verify
Until this year, the USPS has been a reliable and consistent partner to the states in vote-by-mail, and under career civil servants, the USPS is more than capable of delivering ballots to and from voters this fall. But USPS Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump mega-donor, has closed down processing plants and dismantled dozens of mail sorting machines across the country. Last week, DeJoy reversed himself, claiming that no further changes to postal delivery will occur and that the USPS will treat ballots as first class mail regardless of postage payment. These remarks are welcome, but we must still verify those claims and reverse the damage that has already been done.
Trusting the Trump Administration based on its word alone is naive—and dangerous. We still don’t know the full extent of the changes Postmaster DeJoy has already made. We must understand where mail delivery has been compromised and ensure those changes are fully reversed. We cannot have confidence in the USPS until they produce written plans about how they’ll deliver ballots this fall and until Congress has full oversight over their internal workings. Even then, we must remain constantly vigilant for signs of disruption.
Build In Extra Time
Given that the USPS is operating more slowly than previous years, we need to ensure that ballots are sent out early so that they arrive on time. California already sends out ballots a full month before the election. In Washington, however, counties are only required to mail them out eighteen days before the election, though many counties voluntarily mail them out earlier. Washington’s Governor and Secretary of State should call for all counties to mail ballots earlier than in past years.
We also need to give voters more time to send in their ballots and ensure that local elections boards have enough time to count them. Here in Washington, voters only need to have their ballots postmarked by Election Day. But postal delays may result in ballots with missing or illegible postmarks, as happened in Wisconsin earlier this year. The combination of delayed delivery and a missing postmark could mean that legitimate votes are discarded. Washington should extend the deadline to certify results so that voters can be confident that their ballot was counted.
Expand Options and Make Sure Voters Know About Them
Voters may not feel comfortable returning their ballots by mail. This is why ballot drop boxes are an important component of insulating our elections from attacks on the Postal Service. Ballot drop boxes are directly maintained by local elections officials, and they are an easy and convenient alternative. (Perhaps that is why the Trump Administration has embarked on a multi-million dollar legal campaign to stop states from using drop boxes.)
Between now and November, Washington’s top officials can encourage, and provide funding to, local elections officials to purchase and deploy more drop boxes. With Donald Trump falsely saying that drop boxes are insecure, we need to educate voters on how they work, where they are located, and why voters should trust and use them.
Keep the Pressure On
The last three years of the Trump Administration have left us all exhausted. With scandal after scandal, it’s hard to maintain the level of concern and righteous anger that Trump’s actions warrant. But in the upcoming months before November 3, we must keep the pressure on Donald Trump, and the entire Trump Administration, to protect our elections.
One of us, Gael Tarleton, is a national security and Russia expert with over thirty years of experience, and military strategy teaches us that Trump’s attacks must be answered. Silence only emboldens our attackers. That’s why we all need to denounce and condemn Trump’s attacks on our democracy. Whether he’s spreading lies about vote-by-mail, threatening to send law enforcement to intimidate voters at polling locations, suing states to limit ballot drop boxes, or refusing to fund the postal service, we must respond.
We respond by telling our elected representatives about our outrage and the importance of protecting our democracy. We respond by talking to our friends and family and making sure they have a plan to vote. And most of all, we respond by exercising the very right that Donald Trump has gone to such lengths to undermine. We vote.
Alex Padilla serves as California Secretary of State and the current chair of the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State. State Rep. Gael Tarleton is a national security expert who serves in the Washington House of Representatives and is a candidate for Washington Secretary of State.