Emily Gibson has loved the U.S. Postal Service since she was a child.
“Still, one of the best parts of my day is getting the mail,” said Gibson, 53, a Bend elementary school teacher. “It’s like magic; it just shows up.”
On Tuesday, passing drivers honked at Gibson in support, many waving or offering a thumbs-up as they passed. Gibson was standing outside the post office on Fourth Street in Bend with three other people, all holding signs.
Their message? “We support postal workers,” as one sign said.
Tuesday’s minirally was part of national concerns about the U.S. Postal Service as people across the country prepare to vote by mail in the Nov. 3 general election to avoid transmission of COVID-19 — though some local officials aren’t so worried.
It comes as federal officials talk of making changes to postal operations that some say could slow down mail delivery, and as misinformation is being spread about mail-in voter fraud.
The postal service gained national attention this month after Postmaster General Louis DeJoy announced sweeping changes to the mail service’s leadership that some say will slow mail delivery, and President Donald Trump said that the “biggest risk” to his reelection is easier access to mail-in voting.
“It puts our election in jeopardy,” Gibson, an educator and union member, said. “I’m just so worried that the election will be called into question.”
Gibson and the others outside the post office Tuesday have a solution: congressional action to prevent the postal service from changing its operations leading up to or during the election. A bill with that effect, called the Delivering America Act, passed in the U.S. House on Saturday, but it has yet to receive Senate consideration.
In addition to preventing the postal service from making any operational changes until the COVID-19 pandemic is over and requiring same-day processing for election mail, the bill would allocate an additional $25 billion to the service and its inspector general.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told the Louisville Courier-Journal that the senate likely won’t pass a bill that only addresses the postal service, saying instead that the bill could give Republicans leverage in stalled negotiations over a coronavirus relief package.
Republican Rep. Greg Walden, who represents Central, Eastern and Southern Oregon in the House, didn’t vote on the measure. Molly Jenkins, Walden’s spokesperson, said he had a longstanding commitment that prevented him from attending the vote on short notice. She didn’t know if he supported the bill or the general concept, saying she hadn’t talked to him about it.
But Central Oregon’s county clerks — who are in charge of election operations in their counties — aren’t worried that the debate around the postal service will cause issues for the upcoming election.
“The U.S. Postal Service in Oregon has been doing this successfully for over 20 years,” said Deschutes County Clerk Nancy Blankenship. “The post office has had systems in place to move that kind of volume for many, many years.”
What’s more, the postmaster general announced Aug. 18 that he was halting some controversial cost-saving measures until after the election.
Instead, Blankenship said, the key is for voters to be informed and take responsibility for participating in the election. That means making sure their voter registration and signature — which is compared to the one on their ballot when they mail it in — are up to date.
It also means voting on time. Blankenship, as well as elections officials in Crook and Jefferson counties, recommend getting completed ballots in the mailbox by Oct. 27, in line with postal service recommendations.
If voters don’t complete their ballots until after that date, they should use an official drop box instead to ensure their ballots get counted, Blankenship said. Any official box in the state will ensure the ballots get to the right county.
Until then, Gibson hopes Congress will act to protect voting by mail in Oregon and across the country — not to mention the growing number of essential items, medications and documents that come through the mail.
“It’s critical,” she said, sign in hand. “People are driving by, yelling ‘Trump 2020!’ (In order to) vote for him, (they) need the postal service.”
A Postal Service spokesperson did not return a phone call from The Bulletin on Tuesday.
Ernie Swanson, a Postal Service spokesperson, said Wednesday that no changes are planned for postal operations in Oregon at least through the November election, in line with the postmaster general's announcement. Swanson added that Central Oregon didn't see the removal of excess post boxes that occured in Eugene and Portland.
"We're committed to providing the same level of service that we have been," Swanson said.