Stamford Advocate

A day late, a ballot short?

From voter, congressma­n, senator, the message is the same: Protect the mail

- By Angela Carella

STAMFORD — Dara Kurtz wanted to vote by absentee ballot in the Aug. 11 presidenti­al primary, but there was a problem.

The ballot arrived in her mailbox on Aug. 12.

In this pandemic election year, Kurtz decided not to vote in person in the Democratic primary, since there was little question that former Vice President Joe Biden would be the party’s candidate.

That won’t be true in 11 weeks, the Stamford woman said.

“The primary was inconseque­ntial,” Kurtz said, “but November is not going to be inconseque­ntial.”

The Nov. 3 race that will pit Biden against Republican President Donald Trump is already factious — one reason is that many Americans, fearful of COVID-19 contagion, are expected to vote by mail. Trump repeatedly claims, without evidence, that such an election will be rife with fraud.

Trump has said that voting by mail favors Democrats, and he opposes proposals to provide more funding for the post office. He recently named a political donor, Louis DeJoy, to head the postal service. DeJoy has eliminated mail sorting machines and required more hand sorting even as he cut workers’ overtime

“There’s nothing wrong with reforming the post office. But you can’t make dramatic changes just before an election.”

U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn.

hours. He also removed mailboxes, altered trucking schedules and made other changes that have slowed mail delivery nationwide.

‘What did they do?’

Kurtz wonders whether her absentee ballot fell victim to DeJoy’s policies. She notes that her ballot was postmarked Aug. 1, meaning it took 11 days to arrive. The postmark has the zip code 02865, which is Lincoln, R.I., home to Cathedral Corporatio­n, the mailing house contracted by the state to send absentee ballots to all the Connecticu­t residents who requested them.

Eleven days is a long time for delivery, Kurtz said.

“The post office took the sorting machines out. They have to put them back,” Kurtz said. “What did they do with them?”

That was one of the questions Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Himes wanted answered when he visited a Stamford postal facility Tuesday afternoon. His office received 2,500 messages about mail delivery in the previous four days, Himes’ spokesman said.

“Americans love the post office,” said Himes, whose 4th District includes Stamford and most of the rest of Fairfield County. “It’s really important to them.”

The U.S. Postal Service must evolve – there are more packages and less first-class mail now, Himes said. But the country is in the middle of a pandemic and approachin­g an election expected to draw an unpreceden­ted number of voters, with half or more voting by mail.

This is not the time, Himes said. “There’s nothing wrong with reforming the post office,” he said. “But you can’t make dramatic changes just before an election.” ‘How bad?’

Employees of the West Avenue facility Himes visited assured him they can handle the ballots that will come, Himes said. Still, he said, “it would be smart for people to mail their ballots sooner rather than later.”

Reporters were not allowed into the facility, but Joe Baccari of Stamford, a retired letter carrier and former president of Local Branch 60, said postal workers are concerned.

“Are there delays in mail delivery in Stamford? Yes, there are. How bad? I don’t know,” Baccari said. “As a resident I can say that I can go four or five days without a piece of first-class mail, and then get a lot in one day.”

Himes’ visit Tuesday coincided with a lawsuit filed by state Attorney General William Tong and his counterpar­ts in 13 states. They are suing Trump and DeJoy, charging that the changes to the postal service were made without regard for federal laws that require public hearings and a review by the Postal Regulatory Commission.

Tong said the attorneys general “will not allow Trump to steal the election by sabotaging the United States Postal Service.” Fraction of fraud According to the lawsuit, Connecticu­t officials changed the law to allow voters to claim fear of COVID-19 as a reason to request an absentee ballot because the virus has infected 46,000 residents and killed 4,300. Absentee ballot applicatio­ns were mailed to 2.1 million registered voters for the primary and will be mailed again for the Nov. 3 election.

About 57 percent of Connecticu­t voters used absentee ballots in the primary, and the state expects the number to be higher in November, according to the lawsuit. Despite Trump’s claims, the state has a secure history of voting by mail, it states. In the last 10 years, the state has prosecuted and convicted four people of absentee ballot fraud out of 486,460 votes cast in general elections. That’s a rate of .0008 percent, according to the suit.

At a New London post office Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal had harsh words for DeJoy and Trump.

“The heat on the postmaster general has forced him to back down,” the Democrat said, and DeJoy should be removed from his job because he is fulfilling Trump’s instructio­ns in the hope that Americans will not vote by mail.

“That’s not only against the moral obligation of the postmaster and the federal government, it is also a violation of law,” Blumenthal said. Congress ‘the key’

He called on Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican, to reconvene the U.S. Senate to take up funding for the postal service.

“Congress holds the key to making sure the mail is delivered on time,” Blumenthal said.

The House of Representa­tives will meet Saturday to vote on $25 billion in funding for the postal service.

Contacted Wednesday, Amy Gibbs, spokeswoma­n for the postal service in Connecticu­t and New York, said she cannot comment on local operations. She referred questions to a statement DeJoy issued Tuesday saying he is suspending his policy changes until after the election “to avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail.”

According to DeJoy’s statement, there will be no changes in post office hours; mail processors and mailboxes “will remain where they are;” no processing facilities will be closed; and overtime for workers will be approved as needed. As of Oct. 1, “we will engage standby resources in all areas of our operations” to accommodat­e the election, DeJoy wrote.

His statement does not address one change — he has said the postal service will no longer process ballots as first-class mail. Instead they will be handled as slower bulk mail.

Kurtz said she’ll take no chances with the mail on Nov. 3.

“I’m going to drop off my ballot at the government center,” she said. “That is, if it gets to my house in time.”

 ?? Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticu­t Media ?? U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., at the U.S. Post Office on West Avenue in Stamford Tuesday to hear firsthand from USPS staff about recent changes to the postal service.
Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticu­t Media U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., at the U.S. Post Office on West Avenue in Stamford Tuesday to hear firsthand from USPS staff about recent changes to the postal service.
 ?? Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticu­t Media ?? Joseph Baccari, former president of the National Associatio­n of Letter Carriers Branch 60, speaks outside the U.S. Post Office on West Avenue in Stamford on Tuesday.
Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticu­t Media Joseph Baccari, former president of the National Associatio­n of Letter Carriers Branch 60, speaks outside the U.S. Post Office on West Avenue in Stamford on Tuesday.
 ?? Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticu­t Media ?? U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., speaks at the U.S. Post Office on West Avenue in Stamford on Tuesday. Himes heard firsthand from USPS staff about recent changes to the postal service and spoke about the Delivering for America Act and the importance of protecting the USPS ahead of the election in November.
Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticu­t Media U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., speaks at the U.S. Post Office on West Avenue in Stamford on Tuesday. Himes heard firsthand from USPS staff about recent changes to the postal service and spoke about the Delivering for America Act and the importance of protecting the USPS ahead of the election in November.

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