Concerns loom about Postal Service mail sorter removal ahead of Election Day

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CLEVELAND – Concerns about the U.S. Postal Service and mail-in voting are taking center stage in the lead up to the November election.

With a record number of Ohioans expected to vote by mail because of the coronavirus pandemic, some fear the removal of mail sorting machines will slow the processing of mail-in ballots.

A dismantled mail sorting machine sat outside the U.S. Postal Service facility in downtown Cleveland Monday.

USPS spokesperson Naddia Dhalai told FOX 8 News in a statement that the machine, “was moved months ago,” was used to process “flats (like magazines)… a class of mail volume that has declined” and “is not used for ballots.”

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said 50 mail sorters have been removed from postal facilities across the state.

 “Of course we should be concerned,” Brown said. “There’s simply no reason they’re doing any of those things except to try to help Trump in the election.”

Concerns over removal of the machines and Postal Service funding prompted Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi Monday to call the U.S. House back into session later this week and demand a hearing from Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump campaign donor.

U.S. Representative Marcy Kaptur, (D-Ohio’s 9th District) a former letter carrier, applauded the move and called on the Senate and President Donald Trump to act to provide funding to the Postal Service.

“It’s so unnecessary,” Kaptur said. “It doesn’t have to be this way. The funding was passed. It’s in the budget. They have it. Spend it.”

The Postal Service asked Congress for $25 billion to help cover its losses. President Trump, who has repeatedly cast doubts on voting by mail ahead of the election, said last week he opposes additional funding because it could be used for expanded mail-in voting. He told reporters Monday that the Postal Service “is running very well.”

“If you look at the Post Office, for years that’s all people complained about,” Trump said. “We’re going to run it well, and we’re going to not lose so much money.”

A spokesperson for Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said Portman recently sent a letter to DeJoy requesting the USPS implement steps to ensure timely delivery of election materials.

“Senator Portman supported the CARES Act, which provided $10 billion in borrowing authority for the U.S. Postal Service, and supports providing additional resources for the agency to ensure timely delivery of every ballot,” spokesperson Emmalee Kalmbach said, in a statement provided to FOX 8 News.

Amid the concerns, state and local election officials in Ohio are urging voters request and submit absentee ballots early.

“We do have some concerns because of the high volume of mail we typically handle here,” Cuyahoga County Board of Elections Director Tony Perlatti said.

He said the county has traditionally had a robust vote-by-mail system, and he expects absentee ballots to account for more than half of votes cast in the November election.

In its meeting Monday, the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections voted to approve the purchase of two additional high-speed absentee ballot scanners to handle the increase, bringing the county’s total to seven. If approved by Cuyahoga County Council, the nearly $100,000 cost of the machines would be covered by federal funds through the CARES Act.

“Be mindful of your time, do things as soon as you can, because some of these things are beyond our control here at the local level,” Perlatti said, encouraging voters to vote by absentee ballot.

Perlatti said more than 40,000 requests for absentee ballots have already been processed in Cuyahoga County.

Ohio absentee ballots can be requested online now, and local elections boards can begin mailing them out Oct. 6.

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