In a recent profile titled Democracy by mail, the New York Times highlighted the incredible challenges facing US Postal Service (USPS) workers to keep the gears of democracy turning. In other words, America has never needed its postal workers more, and they’ve certainly been hammering away. This year, more than ever, we need to thank America’s postal workers for their work in the US election.
In the lead-up to yesterday’s election, more than 90 million voters had received mail-in ballots, with 60 million returning their votes before Election Day. The USPS, one of America’s largest employers with a workforce of nearly 500,000 career employees has, without a doubt, played a crucial part in the 2020 US presidential election.
The USPS, which goes by the motto ‘Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night’ had to add the COVID-19 pandemic to its list, which, to this day, resulted in thousands of postal workers testing positive for coronavirus and at least 101 of them dying from it.
In the spring, as the virus spread, letter carriers began hauling bulky deliveries of toilet paper and bottled water. Clerks had to receive mail from behind transparent dividers, postal facilities had to be regularly sprayed with disinfectant and letter carriers had to keep their distance from customers they’ve known for years.
Shortly after that came the quarantines. A worker’s family member or friend would test positive, and they would be out of commission. “This summer, under the newly installed postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, the agency moved to curtail overtime and get rid of sorting equipment, desisting only after a public outcry and accusations of political motivation,” writes the New York Times. Then preparations for the upcoming election started.
The USPS had to implement extraordinary measures for the election. Mail-in ballots had to be dropped in a blue box or handed to a carrier, then separated from regular mail, taken to a plant and sorted and delivered to the nearest election office.
Towards the end of September, a directive came down from headquarters in Washington. Starting eight days before the election, local post-office managers had to accelerate the movement of ballots. Postal workers had to deliver them on Sundays if need be, forcing the people who keep post offices running to work 12, 14 or even 16 hours a day. Of course, all logistics were further complicated by different state-by-state rules.
In Florida (a swing state with many ageing residents, who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19), 6 million people requested mail ballots, and more than 4.6 million sent them back. For postal workers there, shepherding the votes became the latest challenge in an already exhausting year.
This amount of work was quickly crushed by the current administration’s attempt to discredit mail-in votes, which led many voters to question the process. “Postal workers bristle at the accusation that they might be mishandling citizens’ ballots,” writes the New York Times. “Their mandate is to uphold what they call their universal service obligation, a commitment to deliver mail to and from every part of America.”
Postal workers have now found their work to be politicised. Customers will hand over their ballots, then linger at the counter with insistent questions, worried their ballot might end up getting lost somewhere. In response, postal workers say they’re treating mail like gold.
“In an election testing the foundation of democracy, none of this could have happened without the postal workers on the ground,” writes the New York Times. For tens of millions of voters, postal workers have allowed them to have a say in the 2020 US presidential election, safely while they risked their lives.
You probably expected to have some kind of clue about the results of the US presidential election by now. But because of the time it takes to count the record number of postal votes cast during this pandemic election, it could take days before we know who will be the next president. On top of that, if there are legal challenges to the results, it might even take weeks! This could get tricky but all in due time. While we don’t have the final result yet, here’s what Trump and Biden won so far.
To clarify things, in the US, to become president you don’t need to win what is called the ‘popular vote’. Instead, a presidential candidate has to win the majority in a system called the electoral college, where each state gets a certain number of votes (or electors) roughly in proportion to its population.
When a candidate wins a state, they win its vote. There are 538 of these state votes in total and the person who gets 270 gets to become president—yay!
That’s why, despite a near-record turnout this election, only a few key states will impact the election result in the end. Although Biden and Trump are projected to win the states they were comfortably expected to win, the race remains very close in a few crucial competitive states. In some of those tight races, officials haven’t even started counting postal votes, and those could change everything.
Earlier today, Trump spoke at the White House as the presidential race remains too close to call. He baselessly accused Democrats of trying to “disenfranchise” his supporters and added, “We will not stand for it.”
As ballots continue to be counted, Trump then went on to push accusations of “fraud” in the presidential election, as he declared victory without the results to back that up. “This is a fraud on the American public,” the president said at the White House. “This is an embarrassment to our country. We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election.” Not to worry though, he did not but the president is clearly seeking to sow doubt about the legitimacy of the election as results start to move away from him.
Biden’s side responded shortly with a statement: “The president’s statement tonight about trying to shut down the counting of duly cast ballots was outrageous, unprecedented, and incorrect. It was outrageous because it is a naked effort to take away the democratic rights of American citizens.
It was unprecedented because never before in our history has a president of the United States sought to strip Americans of their voice in a national election. Having encouraged Republican efforts in multiple states to prevent the legal counting of these ballots before Election Day, now Donald Trump is saying these ballots can’t be counted after Election Day either.
And it was incorrect because it will not happen. The counting will not stop. It will continue until every duly cast vote is counted. Because that is what our laws—the laws that protect every Americans’ constitutional right to vote—require.
We repeat what the Vice President said tonight: Donald Trump does not decide the outcome of this election. Joe Biden does not decide the outcome of this election. The American people decide the outcome of this election. And the democratic process must and will continue until its conclusion.”
Meanwhile, Biden has been declared the winner of Arizona and its 11 electoral votes, which could potentially afford him to lose Pennsylvania and still win the election if he carries Wisconsin and Michigan. Biden’s win in Arizona substantially limits Trump’s path to victory, a fact that the president’s allies appear to be keenly aware of. When Fox News called Arizona for Biden earlier tonight, the president’s advisers expressed outrage.
Among the key states to watch, Trump has won Florida, the swing state with the largest population and the most electoral college votes. Florida has also voted with the eventual winner in all but one presidential election since 1964. Trump won Ohio, one of the largest swing states in the midwest, which has also sided with the eventual election winner for decades.
Biden winning Arizona was a big deal because the state last voted Democratic for president in 1996 before becoming increasingly competitive as the Hispanic share of the electorate grew. The Democrats managed to gain a number of seats in the 2018 midterms here. Then, he also won Michigan, which was by Trump in 2016 by just 0.2 percentage points in 2016—the narrowest margin of any state.
Wisconsin sided with the Democratic candidate in all presidential elections from 1988 through 2012, although sometimes by very narrow margins. In 2016, Trump managed to flip the state despite his underdog status in the polls. This year, Biden won it back.
We are still waiting for the results from key states such as Pennsylvania, Georgia and North Carolina. Whatever Trump says, the outcome of the US presidential election is still in the balance, as vote counting continues.
Candidates need 270 electoral college votes to win. So far, Biden has won 264 and Trump 214. Keep in mind that these numbers will be updated in the next hours.