House Debate over HEROES Act and impact over Elections
In May 2020 the “Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act” or HEROES Act was introduced to Congress. The HEROES Act was created in order to make emergency appropriations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and was built off of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The CARES Act was passed in March 2020 as part of the economic relief package.
Some changes regarding mail-in voting were also included in the HEROES Act. There were concerns by the Republican Party on how this bill would effect voting during the House debate. In the House debate, Republicans often accused the Democratic Party of changing the election laws because it benefits them. Representative Robert Aderholt from Alabama argued that the election mandates would allow for voter fraud and ballot harvesting.
The House of Representatives defines ballot harvesting as “the practice in which political operatives collect absentee ballots from voters’ homes and drop them off at a polling place or election office.” Representative Rodney Davis of Illinois said it created more of a federal election rather than serve the American people. The HEROES bill does provide alternative methods of returning ballots such as allowing another person to return a ballot. The bill affirms that a state, “may not put any limit on how many voted and sealed absentee ballots any designated person can return to the post office, a ballot drop off location, tribally designated building, or election office”.
There is also no effect by the bill on ballots submitted by overseas voters and absent military. Davis shared the similar concerns expressed by Representative Aderholt, as it would leave the ballots unchecked and open to fraud, as well as the timing of new election rules. Both Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Doug LaMalfa of California addressed the matter of collecting ballots from other voters’ homes as it would seem like a form of coercion.
The Democratic Party argued that they wanted to find a way to find voting safe and accessible. Democratic members of the House like Representative Brenda Lawrence of Michigan claimed that it was a measure used to make sure individuals could vote during the pandemic. Representative Stony Hoyer of Maryland stated, “It protects our Democracy by allocating additional resources to protect the 2020 census and secure our elections, as well as ensuring the postal service provides its essential service.” In May 2020, the HEROES Act moved on to the Senate with hearings being held in the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.
Senate Hearing on the new Postmaster General
On June 2020, Louis Dejoy was appointed the 75th Postmaster General of the United States, by the bipartisan postal board of Governors. He was chosen after the last Postmaster General Megan Brennan retired. Dejoy’s qualifications include more than 35 years as the chairman and CEO with New Breed Logistics, as well as a contractor with the US Postal Service. The Democrats accused Dejoy of implementing delays in the mail, and that the board that appointed him was Republican-controlled.
An investigation was launched by Senator Gary Peters from Michigan, where operational changes were implemented by causing delays. During Dejoy’s hearing by the House oversight committee, Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York suspected that he is “doing exactly what President Trump said that he wanted on National Television, using the blocking of funds to justify sweeping changes to Hobble mail-in voting.” Earlier this week, Representative Maloney served a subpoena to Postmaster Dejoy and Board of Governors Duncan, over documents that were requested by the House and Senate. Dejoy’s subpoena requested the following documents by September 16th, 2020:
“All documents and communications drafted, sent, or received by Postmaster General
DeJoy after June 15, 2020, in person, over the telephone, or through emails, texts, or any
other forms of communications, whether through official or personal technology
platforms, with individuals who are or were associated in any way with … The Trump
campaign or any other political organization, including employees, advisors, consultants,
and intermediaries, regardless of whether they were paid or unpaid or acting in a formal
or informal capacity, the dates of each of these communications, and a detailed
description of the content of each conversation.”
The Post Office in the Constitution
During the House Oversight Committee Hearing, Democratic Representative Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts cited the mail as a constitutional right. Representative Lynch also stated that Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers, was the first Postmaster General. Article 1 section 8 clause 7 states that “The Congress shall have Power to….establish Post Offices and post Roads.”
The Constitution puts Congress in charge of the Post Office. However, the US Postal service is not run by Congress but by the Federal Government. The Federal Government became involved due to the Post Office Act of 1792. The history section of the Mission Statement of the United States Postal Service states, “The Act included provisions to facilitate freedom of the press, the privacy of personal correspondence, and expand the nation’s physical infrastructure, all vital to our nation’s growth and prosperity.”
As a result, a lot of time and money is being spent on the Postal Service. Presently there are 200 federal laws enforced by the Postal Inspection Service. Currently, the Post Office has a $71.1 billion operating revenue. The US Postal service also reports that they have the largest retail network that is “bigger than McDonald’s, Starbucks and Walmart combined,” with a revenue of $12.7 billion.
Some of the adjustments that had to be made currently failed to make it to Congress. Representative Gerald Connolly of Virginia also claimed that some of the changes that Dejoy wanted to make were very untimely due to the pandemic and election year. He also argued that the changes that Dejoy wanted to implement were not brought before Congress. Robert Duncan who was a chair with the US Postal service board admitted that there were some changes with the postal service that had to be made with modernization. Duncan had claimed that he had tried to contact Congress multiple times about the changes that had to be made.
Delays and Recovery
Dejoy testified that some of the changes he wanted to make were not supposed to cause delays and that there has been some recovery with the mail volume being down 15%. He also argued that there should be a recovery system for some of the changes that are being made with the postal service it was just taking a while. However, Representative Maloney argued that some of the delays in her district of New York were still occurring.
Not only were there concerns about the current changes taking place, but how future legislation can affect mail-in voting. Representative Jody Hice, a Republican from Georgia mentioned the HEROES act during the oversight hearing, “In the HEROES Act is the requirement that both the states cannot be involved in requiring voter ID and so we are going to have tens of millions of ballots sent out across the country to many people that are perhaps deceased or have moved into states, are not going to be able to have any notoriety if the Democrats have their way and then we will have the ballot harvesting taking place.” Dejoy testified that the post office was going to put in two weeks of overtime before the election deadline to ensure the ballots do get delivered.
Mail-in Ballots and Election Deadlines with no Changes in Legislation
During his Senate hearing, Dejoy stated that there will be no changes in election policy with mail-in voting. This can be a challenge because mail-in ballots are anticipated to occur more than usual because of COVID-19. Legislation has also not taken into consideration the deadlines with the mail-in ballots. Chairman Maloney introduced the “Delivering for America Act” that would help protect the operations and organizational structure of the US Postal Service, “At this juncture in our nation’s history, when the number of Americans voting by mail for this Presidential election is expected to more than double from the last, Congress must protect the right of all eligible citizens to have their vote counted.” This Act would prohibit any changes being made with the postal service on January 1, 2020, until the COVID-19 pandemic ends.