Mail slowdowns have hurt Michigan businesses and prevented Michiganders from having their vote count. But the Postal Service is throwing away sorting machines.
GRAND RAPIDS, MI — A pile of metal sat outside a post office in Grand Rapids, waiting to be discarded. It was a massive, hulking ton of machinery used for processing and sorting thousands of pieces of mail a day for West Michigan. It was one of only four machines doing that work.
And it was working just fine.
The machine wasn’t thrown away because it broke down, or was faulty, or failing. It was thrown away because Postmaster General Louis DeJoy wanted it thrown away. And that decision has ramifications for Michiganders.
Postal delays have become an issue since DeJoy assumed control of the Postal Service, and cutting out sorting machines extend that risk. And it hasn’t only impacted voting by mail, where 10,000 ballots went uncounted in August’s primary, but also Michigan businesses.
“I would say the post office delays have impacted my business in less of a direct sales way and more of a customer service aspect,”Etsy shop owner Lewis Haney told The ‘Gander. “The delays started in late July around the time the ballots started to come in for the early August election. My packages started to sit unscanned for almost two weeks. I had to reach out to every customer and let them know that the USPS was having some kind of crazy delay.”
Some of Haney’s customers were understanding. Some weren’t, and demanded refunds.
And Haney is only one microbusiness relying on the postal service. According to data from the Postal Service, 70% of businesses with ten or fewer employees rely on the post office exactly for the reasons Haney does. On average, these microbusinesses spend around $350 a month shipping products, and most primarily use the USPS.
And the Postal Service has lost nine more sorting machines in Michigan, just like the pile of scrap metal in Grand Rapids.
Sorting Out the Sorting Machines
Despite assurances that he was walking back, at least temporarily, policies that have slowed down the United States Postal Service and endangered both the votes and businesses of Michiganders, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy refused to have mail sorting machines brought back online.
The Postal Service, at DeJoy’s orders, removed more than 10% of its Delivery Barcode Sorter machines since June. Those machines are used to quickly sort mail, including absentee ballots.
The removal of sorting machines was already largely completed before DeJoy backed down from his policy changes. Crain’s reports that of the over 475 machines removed nationwide, at least ten of which were in Michigan. CNN pointed out that reversing this policy change before Election Day would be a massive challenge for the Postal Service.
So DeJoy isn’t going to. In testimony to Congress on Monday, DeJoy backed down on backing down, instead saying he would not reverse all his cost-cutting measures before and until the November election.
Answering a question about turning back on sorting machines, DeJoy was dismissive. He also dismissed the idea of allowing local post offices to determine if their sorting machines were needed.
“In Washington, it makes plenty of sense,” he said. “To me, it makes none.”
In Grand Rapids, it leaves postal sorting machines disassembled and offline.
MLive reported Aug. 19 on one of West Michigan’s only four flat mail sorting machines being disassembled and left to be tossed in a nearby dumpster. The machine, MLive reports, was fully functional.
“They took out a fully-functioning flat sorter machine,” Jim Haggarty, president for the Michigan chapter of the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, told MLive. “They say it’s because the mail volume is down … When things start to normalize, that mail could go back up.”
Haggarty said those machines could be used to sort the expected deluge of absentee ballots in November. In August’s primary, at least 10,000 Michiganders had their votes go uncounted as part of postal delays. And that isn’t a flaw in the plan, according to President Donald Trump.
“They want $3.5 billion for the mail-in votes, universal mail-in ballots. They want $25 billion for the Post Office. They need that money in order to make the Post Office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots,” Trump said on Fox Business. “But if they don’t get those two items that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting, because they’re not equipped to have it.”
A Struggle for the Postal Service
That admission, paired with DeJoy’s cost-cutting measures having disastrous effects, has prompted Michigan to join several other states in a lawsuit against the Postal Service.
That lawsuit was followed within hours by a statement from DeJoy pledging to roll back those controversial changes until after the election. But his testimony Monday painted a different story.
DeJoy’s hearing was combative. The former supply chain manager struggled to answer basic questions about postal costs and tensions flared as Democrats pushed for binding statements and policy changes.
“Is your backup plan to be pardoned, like Roger Stone?” Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) asked.
Everyday Michiganders, however, are standing with the Postal Service and against DeJoy. Rallies from Detroit to Kalamazoo have demonstrated support for postal workers and for things they need, like the scrapped sorting machine in Grand Rapids.
“We would have never known what was going on in the Postal Service, [if not] for your courage to come forward and tell us the truth about what Postmaster General and the Trump Administration was doing,” Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) said to the attendees of Detroit rally, many of whom were postal workers. “This has been decades in the works that they’ve been trying to privatize our U.S. Postal Service.”