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Postmaster General Testifies, Says USPS Will Prioritize Mailed Ballots


NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell has been listening to that hearing. Kelsey, good morning.


INSKEEP: OK. So we have all these suspicions about the post office. We have all these anecdotal accounts of mail being delayed and the election looming. What's he got to say?

SNELL: Well, DeJoy started out right from the very top by saying explicitly that the Postal Service is prepared. He says they're ready for the election and that their - he called it slack in the system and a backup system available if there is a sudden crushing of election mail beyond what they're prepared for. He said explicitly that this election will be just like every one before it.


LOUIS DEJOY: There has been no changes in any policies with regard to election mail for the 2020 election.

SNELL: But there have been some delays in mail delivery. And Democrats and Republicans on the panel worried that the delays could persist into the election. You know, he talked about - DeJoy talked about a letter that was sent to states explaining postal policies and systems. That raised a lot of alarm bells because, basically, they were telling some states that their systems wouldn't be able to keep up, wouldn't be able to deliver ballots on time. But DeJoy says that, too, was standard practice for every election before this election. And it was really meant to let states know what the limitations are before they set their deadlines.

INSKEEP: There were other alarm bells set off on this program when a postal worker in Waterloo, Iowa, reported that a sorting machine had been taken out. And, in fact, a number of them seemed to have been taken out in Iowa. There's since been a lot of reports of sorting machines being taken away, these really large, sophisticated pieces of equipment. What does DeJoy say about that?

SNELL: He was directly asked about those sorting machines and if they will be replaced. And he simply said, no. He says that they are unnecessary. He said the sorting machines in particular were being swapped out because people aren't just sending letters anymore. This is what he said.


DEJOY: We really are moving these machines out to make room to process packages. No - we still have - we have hundreds of these machines everywhere.

SNELL: So he says that, you know, the hundreds of machines are there. They're in cities and in - where they're necessary. And they're just moving things around. But Democrats pointed out that it doesn't seem to be the case everywhere. There are places where there are no backup machines. And ballots themselves would go through letter sorting, not package sorting.

INSKEEP: Is this correct? DeJoy is also saying some of these changes were on the way before he arrived in May.

SNELL: Actually, he says most of the changes that people are asking questions about were on the way before he came around, came into the job in May. He's not taking responsibility for most of the things that have come up in the news reports about the package sorting, the overtime changes that some are saying are contributing to the delays. He says he is one person in a big system that's been in place before he got there. In fact, he also blamed Congress in a lot of ways for some of the problems that the Postal Service is having because they haven't taken action so far. He blamed the changes to the machinery in the offices on policies that were already in place. Here's what he said.


DEJOY: Well, the collection boxes and this machine close-down, I was made aware when everybody else was made aware.

SNELL: He said he learned about it in the news just like the rest of us, and that he kind of stepped in later and put a pause on things, but that this was all already a machine in motion before he got there. He does say the same thing about overtime rules and election notices. He essentially said the only thing he did was shift around a system for how deliveries are scheduled and sent. And he did acknowledge that that was creating delays. But he did not really commit to how any of that would be fixed. So that still creates a problem.

INSKEEP: I want to circle back to something that you report that he said. He said this election will be like any other. And it's true, there've been mail-in ballots before. I think there were 40 million in the past. Except, people think there might be 80 million this time. In an atmosphere where the president of the United States has publicly and falsely disparaged the whole process, did he address his independence from the president? And did he assure that he could handle twice as many mail-in ballots if there are that many?

SNELL: He says the system is prepared. He says he supports mail-in voting. And he says that he hasn't spoken to the president aside from being congratulated for taking the job. He says he hasn't talked to the Trump campaign or anybody else in the White House aside from recently he started speaking to Mark Meadows after all of this controversy kicked up. But he says none of this has been about his politics. And he says he's confident that the election will go off as planned.

INSKEEP: Mark Meadows, of course, the White House chief of staff. NPR's Kelsey Snell. Thanks so much.

SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.