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Postal workers say they are ready for the mail-in voting surge
Tara Jacoby for Vox Unless Postmaster General Louis DeJoy gets in the way. Over the last few months, Lori Cash has watched US Postal Service management remove mail sorting machines, curb after-hours pickups and deliveries, and limit overtime work in the Upstate New York region where she has worked for more than 20 years. These kinds of operational changes in the USPS, which rolled out across the country, have caused significant mail delays — and legitimate concern that they could interfere with an expected surge in mail-in voting for this November’s general election. Many have speculated that the postal service slowdowns were intended to interfere with the election because some of these controversial cost-cutting measures were initiated after Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a top Trump donor, took over in June. And President Trump stoked these concerns when he admitted in August that he was blocking new funding for the postal service in part to sabotage universal mail-in voting. So how worried should we be — if you vote by mail this election, will your vote get counted? Cash told Recode that despite the hurdles and delays these changes have caused, she haslittle doubt that she and her colleagues around the country are ready for the expected mail-in voting rush ahead of the historic presidential election. “Where we stand right now, I feel confident that we can handle the amount of ballots,” Cash, a postal worker and local union leader with the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), told Recode in early September. “We can definitely handle the volume even with the machines that have been removed.” Yet Cash’s confidence comes with one big caveat: She fears that DeJoy, who paused the controversial initiatives last month in the wake of congressional pressure and a media firestorm, may still institute more disruptive changes between now and November 3. If that happens, she believes all bets are off. About a half-dozen other rank-and-file postal employees in New York, Florida, Montana, and New England echoed Cash’s perspective in conversations that took place after DeJoy committed to pause the disruptive measures in August: They are adamant that they and their colleagues are prepared to handle the barrage of ballots — so long as DeJoy stays out of the way. “My biggest concerns are people not mailing ballots in early enough. If there are delays in some areas, and if DeJoy makes any more significant changes out in the field, that would definitely disrupt the [mail-in voting] operation,” Cash said. “My advice to people is to make sure you know what your due date is and get that ballot in the mail two weeks early. I want people to still be proactive and mail their ballots in early — because just because [DeJoy] is quiet right now, doesn’t mean that at the last minute he won’t make any drastic changes.” But the biggest challenge mail-in voting faces is one of trust, perhaps more than anything else. Even if DeJoy keeps his word on pausing the cost-saving changes until after the election and the USPS handles tens of millions of ballots without a major disruption, will the general public trust the results? Sowing that doubt appears to be a goal for Trump, who has for months been pushing baseless, misleading claims about how susceptible mail-in ballots are to fraud. And it seems to have worked: Conspiracy theories about the process abound. As a result, for government officials in states where voters will rely heavily on voting by mail, educating the public about how and when to vote by mail is more crucial than ever. With the Covid-19 pandemic making in-person voting a potentially risky activity, as many as 80 million people could end up voting via mail-in or drop-off ballots ahead of the election, according to a New York Times analysis. Such a surge in mail-in voting would mark more than a 100 percent increase from mail ballot totals in 2016. That kind of spike would apply massive pressure to the USPS and its 500,000 employees even in normal times. And these times are anything but normal at the United States Postal Service. DeJoy, a top Republican donor and former logistics company CEO, took over as the USPS chief in June and has since overseen a series of cost-cutting measures that worried postal employees, union leaders and some politicians, who feared that the accompanying deterioration in mail and package delivery times would cause a mail-in voting fiasco. The delays have also disrupted the lives of Americans who rely on timely postal service deliveries for prescription drugs, social security checks, and other important goods. Still, America’s postal workers are committed to getting the job done. “I think and hope [DeJoy] is hiding and going to let us do our thing and get all election mail delivered like before,” a veteran postmaster in New England, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, told Recode. “We get daily emails [from management] to make sure all election mail, incoming or outgoing, is clear everyday.” Joanne Borell, a 25-year veteran of the USPS who is a postal clerk in Billings, Montana, says she has no reason to believe the postal service won’t handle mail-in voting on time, even with increased demand. More than half of all voters in Montana voted by mail in 2016, and Borell said she has never witnessed or heard of significant issues with handling ballots. “We deal with passports, live animals, and other things people really care about,” Borell said in an interview. “We are always watching for things that we have to take special care of.” What does concern Borell is how some mail delays and misleading claims about vote-by-mail fraud has caused many Americans to lose confidence in the postal service. Recently, a family member of Borell told her they were worried postal employees with a political bias would discard or tamper with ballots to try to give their chosen candidate and party a boost. Such conspiracies are not surprising at a time in which Trump has routinely publicly attacked mail-in voting. But Borell was offended by the suggestion. “Never in my entire career have I seen anybody do something like that,” she said of tossing ballots in the trash. Another postal clerk, who requested anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to reporters, said a deluge of Amazon packages is what is currently overwhelming the post offices where the employee works. But the USPS has actually seen a decline of customers sending first-class mail like bills and letters during the pandemic, which presumably would allow the postal service to more easily process a surge of mail-in ballots, which are also typically treated as first-class. “From what I can see, we are perfectly capable of handling [a surge of mail-in ballots],” the worker said. “But we’re getting destroyed with packages. It’s like Christmas never ended.” Nate Castro, a mail processor in Tampa, Florida, and a local APWU leader, said election ballots, which get labeled with a red tag to denote their importance, will get processed quickly and accurately — barring unforeseen changes by DeJoy or other top management to existing USPS processes. “You want to vote in-person? So be it; that’s your voting right,” Castro told Recode. “But it should also be the right for every person to vote by mail.” Open Sourced is made possible by Omidyar Network. All Open Sourced content is editorially independent and produced by our journalists. Will you help keep Vox free for all? The United States is in the middle of one of the most consequential presidential elections of our lifetimes. It’s essential that all Americans are able to access clear, concise information on what the outcome of the election could mean for their lives, and the lives of their families and communities. That is our mission at Vox. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone understand this presidential election: Contribute today from as little as $3.
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The first big test of Facebook’s oversight board will be the US election
Facebook’s oversight board, which has independent authority to reverse Facebook’s decisions about whether controversial posts should remain up or get taken down, will launch in October. | Tobias Hase/picture alliance via Getty Images The board — which has the power to overrule Mark Zuckerberg on content decisions — will start up as soon as mid-October. Facebook’s much-anticipated independent oversight board — a group that will be able to overrule Facebook’s leaders, even CEO Mark Zuckerberg, about whether controversial posts should stay up or be removed— announced its plans to start making decisions on contested content by mid to late October. That means the board may be called on to make decisions about important Facebook posts related to the US presidential election. In recent months, some have criticized the long-awaited board for not moving quickly enough to deal with issues around misinformation, hate speech, and extremism on the platform, and doubted whether it would be functional before the November election. But as long as internal testing of its technical systems goes well, the board says it will start accepting contested content cases around mid to late October. That means that if President Trump or any other candidate declares a premature victory on Facebook on election night, the board could potentially take on that case and decide whether that post should stay up or come down. While the board is still determining the specific criteria for how it will prioritize cases, it generally will take on “difficult, significant and globally relevant” cases “that can inform future policy,” according to its website. “The go-live date is not connected to any specific case that the board is seeking or not seeking to take,” Facebook oversight board’s director of administration Thomas Hughes told Recode. “That said, the type of case you just described [in which a politician declares a premature election victory], would be in scope, and could be referred to the board by Facebook, or potentially in time, referred to by a user.” Here’s how the board will work once it goes live: It will take cases both from users and Facebook itself. Facebook the company can refer any kind of contentious post to the board it wants an outside opinion on, and the board will have 90 days (or 30 days if the case is expedited) to rule on the decision. For Facebook users, they can only go to the board if something they personally posted was taken down and they want to dispute it. In later months, the board plans to expand its purview and allow users to request for other people’s content to be taken down if they believe it violates Facebook’s policies against things like hate speech or harmful misinformation. At a time when Facebook is being attacked by both Republicans and Democrats for how it’s been handling politically contentious speech in the US, the board is meant to add oversight to the company’s decision-making. But it won’t solve the lion’s share of Facebook’s problems around how to deal with hate speech and misinformation. For one thing, the board will only take a small number of cases a year, likely “tens or hundreds” according to Hughes, out of the tens of thousands of annual cases that are expected to come its way. And it won’t be all about the US, either. Facebook’s oversight board is made up of 20 lawyers, academics, journalists, and policy experts from all over the world — collectively, its members speak 27 different languages and have lived in 29 different countries. “Obviously, the US election has an enormous impact on the world,” said Hughes, “But there will be a quite a broad range of things that the board I think would be very keen to get stuck into early on.” Facebook first floated the idea of an independent oversight board back in 2018, as it was facing scrutiny for its handling of Russian interference on the platform during the 2016 US election. Almost two years later, the board in January announced its governing rules, and in May announced its members. Ruling on specific controversial posts is one thing, but actually getting Facebook to rethink its policies is another challenge. Some social media researchers have questioned the power of the board to dictate Facebook’s policy, and how much the company will listen to its recommendations. Now, the election could turn out to be the first big test of how impactful this oversight board will truly be in practice. In fact, whether or not the board accepts a case related to controversial election content is a test in and of itself. Help keep Vox free for all Millions turn to Vox each month to understand what’s happening in the news, from the coronavirus crisis to a racial reckoning to what is, quite possibly, the most consequential presidential election of our lifetimes. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone make sense of an increasingly chaotic world: Contribute today from as little as $3.
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