Moyers on Democracy

Lisa Graves Gives Us an Update on the Battle for the Post Office

Lisa Graves Gives Us an Update on Battle for the Post Office

ANNOUNCER:  Welcome to Moyers on Democracy. That’s Lisa Graves on how to save our postal service from corruption. Once a senior deputy to two U.S. attorneys general – one a Democrat, the other at Republican – she is now Executive Director of True North Research, a non-profit policy research and watchdog group that investigates how special interest groups influence our political system for private gain. She recently published THE BILLIONAIRE BEHIND EFFORTS TO KILL THE U.S. POSTAL SERVICE, an extensive investigation on Charles Koch’s crusade to privatize the postal service. You can read that astonishing report on Bill invited Lisa Graves back to update what’s happened at the postal service since their last conversation.

BILL MOYERS: The last time we talked, the Postal Service was in turmoil. President Trump and his postmaster general were trying to sabotage it so that it couldn’t handle the millions of mail-in ballots, causing people to lose faith in the election process. It was an all-court press on trying to handicap, cripple, the Postal Service. How do you read the situation now? Do you think that with the support of a lot of federal courts around the country the Postal Service has recovered to the point where it can do its core function, which is to deliver the mail on time for the election?

LISA GRAVES: Well, I am heartened by the judicial decisions. None of them have been by Trump judges, by the way. They’ve been by longstanding judges on the courts who have ruled or issued injunctions to try to prevent the policies under Louis DeJoy that have so disrupted Americans’ mail from further disrupting it. We know more now than we knew then, including how the directives of Louis DeJoy have harmed the ability of the Postal Service, including with what they call the on-time departure, meaning on-time departure without your mail. And Louis DeJoy said he didn’t forbid overtime, that he just restricted it. Okay. Well, that restriction had a huge impact on the on-time delivery of the mail. And so, the court rulings certainly worked to mitigate that. Last week, the Postal Service said it was gonna be complying with the decisions but that it could not restore all the machines that had been dismantled. And the finding of one of the courts is significant because even though, every year, some number of sorting machines are removed from service they need to be repaired, or they’re old, or they’re not needed in that facility. In the past four years, I think the number removed has been in the 300s. But starting this summer, more than 700 machines were removed in a very short time frame. And what one of the courts ruled was that that was part of a real politicization of the Postal Service, in part because more than 70% of those machines were from counties, cities, that Hillary Clinton won in 2016. It really is startling to think that in cities where you have a huge population and where you may very well have more people voting by mail – in part because of the way that the coronavirus has impacted cities, which are more densely populated than other areas – that that’s the area in which these machines were being removed, at a disproportionate rate. The Postal Service said that many of those machines, they cannot be put back into service. I think that there are still difficulties. And every day, even with these court rulings, there seems to be some new revelation, including one earlier this week that suddenly the Postal Service stopped updating the change-of-address database in substantial measure. It trickled from thousands of updates to hundreds of updates just as the counties were drawing on that database to send ballots out in August and into September. It’s very worrisome, what’s been happening at the Postal Service and the things we don’t know about what’s been happening behind the scenes. Ultimately, I’m still calling on Louis DeJoy to resign. He should not be in that post. He has severe conflicts of interest due to his financial holdings. He has a very troubling record of, you know, in terms of witnesses describing use of his company to push his political agenda and to push people to donate, and then rewarding them with bonuses for donating which, if proven, is a crime under straw donor rules in this country that have been in existence for a long time. He’s made hundreds of thousands of dollars of donations to the Trump campaign to try to help it win in this election. That, I think, is also disqualifying. And he’s been working with Steve Mnuchin on what is clearly a plan to privatize the Postal Service as we talked about, Charles Koch’s effort to basically push the Postal Service or part out the Postal Service for the private sector for profit. So, I think he needs to resign. And I think that having him preside over this election, even under court order doesn’t give me comfort. I don’t think he should be in that role. And I think that the board of the Postal Service also needs to be reformed because it’s being helmed by Senator Mitch McConnell’s right-hand man and lead fundraiser for his senate leadership fundraising. And so, the Postal Service has been politicized by this administration. And it needs to be de-politicized. And it needs to be restored and actually expanded, invested in, to do the job that the American people know it needs to do for them in this election and in general.

BILL MOYERS: Wouldn’t it be great if people – Democrats, Republicans – in the towns and cities and suburbs where they live would go down to the post office and say, “Are you being harassed? Are you being prevented from doing your job? And if so, let’s organize to track our member of Congress until this is changed.” I mean, if you started a movement around the post office, a non-partisan movement, because the post office is so important to where we all live, you might get some of that change.

LISA GRAVES: I think that’s right. It should be a non-partisan issue. People should be coming together and rallying around protecting this great institution that is as old as our democracy. If people would join together and go to their local post offices and say: How can we protect you? How can we protect the service you provide? How can we make sure that the people who represent us actually protect this core public service that the postal service provides? I think that could be the beginning of a great trans-partisan movement to defend the institutions of our democracy.

BILL MOYERS: Trump is still making false and exaggerated claims about voter fraud and voting by mail. Did you hear any of the robocalls that the Republicans have unleashed, urging Trump voters to vote by absentee ballot in the election, but not to vote by mail, because they said, while absentee ballots are safe and secure, voting by mail can be fraudulent. I mean, just weird, because they’re really essentially the same, absentee ballots and voting by mail. And I listened to the tape of the robocall:

KIMBERLY GUILFOYLE: President Trump needs you to join him in voting absentee this year… Absentee voting is safe, secure and supported by President Trump. The radical left wants universal vote-by-mail, which is proven to be filled with fraud, abuse and mistakes.

BILL MOYERS:  These robocalls were done by two people, Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend and his daughter-in-law, saying confusing things about absentee ballots and voting by mail. What’s going on there?

LISA GRAVES: This is new, this sort of twist that they’ve put on it this past week with those robocalls in saying, definitely get your absentee ballot, but don’t vote by mail, when, in fact, you know, Americans use the mail for all sorts of important sensitive things. We mail our taxes, although some people do it electronically now because it’s more convenient, but not because it wasn’t safe. People get their tax refunds often by mail. People mail their bills by mail, get checks by mail. You go to the post office and drop off your mail or put the mail in your mailbox. It’s actually a crime to remove the mail from someone else’s mailbox. And, in fact, by the way, that’s something that surprisingly came up in connection with Louis DeJoy, where his brother, his own brother accused him of stealing his mail, of opening secret bank accounts in his name and then hiding the mail from him for five years, which we’ve never seen alleged against a postmaster general in history. Of course, he denied it and settled that case. But, you know, stealing people’s mail is a crime. And that crime is prosecuted in America. It does happen from time to time. But there’s no evidence that there’s some band of ballot thieves out there stealing people’s ballots out of mailboxes or out of the post office. There are concerns about the man who’s at the head of the post office making things into a chaotic circumstance that delays the ballots and makes it harder for them to get counted. That’s, I think, a worry that I have. But this notion put forward by these two members of Trump’s team that they should request absentee ballots but not vote by mail because there’s some conspiracy that Democrats are somehow stealing the mail out of their mailboxes is just nonsense. During the 2016 Election after Donald Trump claimed that more than three million ballots had been cast fraudulently, which just happened to be the same number that he lost by in the popular vote – no coincidence there, right – after that, there was an investigation of how many people were actually prosecuted and there were four cases out of, you know, millions and millions of ballots cast. And, interestingly, all four of those cases were Republicans, which was, you know, a surprise that that was the outcome. But four out of hundreds of millions of votes cast, in the sense of all the different votes at the primary and general level in 2016, cumulatively. And, you know, in the course of more than a billion ballots cast, voter fraud is extremely rare. But what’s not rare is voter suppression. And what’s not rare is this effort to kick people off the voting rolls because they didn’t vote in a primary or they didn’t vote in a midterm election, and make it harder for them to vote so that their vote is, quote, “a provisional ballot,” that doesn’t count that day if they have to pass it that day. And then people wonder, “Should I wait in line because will my vote count?” Yes, you should wait in line. Yes, we need people to vote to have their votes cast and have their votes counted. But what’s happening right now is that you have this battle going on, orchestrated by Trump’s team to attack voting by mail in the states, to attack measures to make it easier in a deadly pandemic for people to cast their vote. And we’re gonna see this effort by the president to claim victory on Election Day or Election Night, based on in-person ballots, and to have his legal team fight to stop the counting of mailed-in ballots or absentee ballots that are delivered to ballot boxes and to try to claim that those ballots are somehow fraudulent if the count goes toward Biden, his opponent. They’ve already telegraphed that this is their plan. They’ve already said it out loud. Jim Jordan said it expressly during the hearing with Mr. DeJoy, that the president’s gonna win on Tuesday night, November 3rd, and that then all these ballots will be counted, and that will somehow be a fraud. Well, the fact is, is that because we’re in a pandemic, we are gonna have more people voting remotely than probably ever before. And those ballots of the American people need to be counted. But this president and his henchmen, in Congress, and in the Administration are trying to set up a scenario in which he gets to declare himself a winner, even if he loses, and try to stay in power unjustly if he loses by claiming that the ballots that are mailed are inherently fraudulent or false. I don’t know that we’ve ever had a president behave in this way, ever. I don’t even know whether Strom Thurmond as a Dixiecrat you know, even uttered such things, although obviously in that Jim Crow era there was a whole array of tactics to intimidate voters and to try poll taxes and literacy tests and more to try to keep African Americans from voting. But in modern American history, I don’t think we’ve ever had a president or a party who has so grotesquely attacked the core rote in a democracy of the people, by the people, for the people, which is the right to vote and have that vote be counted.

BILL MOYERS: So if the scenario unfolds as you’ve just described it on Election Day and Election Night, what should people do?

LISA GRAVES: Oooh. I think that prevention is the best medicine. Everybody needs to make sure that they are registered. You can call your county. You can check online. There are a number of reputable sources for checking whether you are registered. Make sure you’re registered to vote. Make a plan for voting. Make sure that you have a plan. Are you going to vote? Are you gonna request an absentee ballot, if you can? Are you in a state where your absentee ballot is already coming because it’s automatically mailed to you? Once you have your ballot, what is your plan for getting it counted? Are you gonna mail it in? Are you going to make sure that you have signed it appropriately or had a witness in some states that requires a witness? Make sure you have the envelope. If there’s a requirement of an outer envelope, that that envelope be used and that it be signed. You know, just follow the rules, check them twice and then check them one more time to make sure that your ballot can’t be disqualified by some partisan trying to deny your vote its power. Are you voting in person? If you are, can you make sure that you can stay in that line as long as possible– you know, that you have taken time off from work if you can or that you have arrangements made for you to be in that line, to stay until your vote, your ballot is cast? And then there’s also a need for people to be monitors to make sure that the ballots are counted. And also, on Election Day, younger people who are not as high a risk as others, have been asked to volunteer at precincts, to sit at the table, to check voters in and check their names off the list. There’s opportunities to volunteer to be an independent and fair administrator of the election. And then in terms of the counting I think we’re gonna have to just say that every ballot in America that’s cast needs to be counted. And there’s no decision until all the ballots are counted. I don’t think that this desire by some news stations to call a winner as quickly as possible– I think that’s unhealthy for our democracy. And it’s particularly unhealthy in this environment, where we know there are gonna be a number of absentee ballots cast by mail or by ballot boxes. We have to insist that no one be declared a winner until they’re actually a winner. And we have to insist that our votes be counted. And that may require people engaging in non-violent action of being in the street, being at the courthouses, being at the clerk’s office, peacefully demanding that in our democracy our ballots all be counted.

BILL MOYERS: Lisa Graves, thank you very much.

LISA GRAVES: Thank you.

ANNOUNCER: Thanks for listening to Moyers on Democracy. You’ll find more from Lisa Graves about the post office fight on Until next time, all this and more at