The US Postal Service is facing unprecedented delays which could upend the election on November 3, mail workers have told The Daily Telegraph.
Sorting machines which process ballots have been removed and scrapped, mail collection boxes have been taken away, and one depot was so backed up it “looked like Armageddon” inside.
Thousands of baby chicks being sent to farms through the post have died and rats have been roaming processing centres filled with the stench of rotting food deliveries, according to union workers.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic there is expected to be an explosion in mail-in voting, with 80 million Americans predicted to send their ballot through the post.
But in June, Louis DeJoy, the new postmaster general, who has donated over $2 million to the campaigns of Donald Trump and other Republicans, began instituting drastic cuts.
That included removing high-speed mail sorting machines, and blue collection boxes, cutting overtime, and ordering trucks to leave plants on schedule even if there was mail still to be loaded.
Under pressure from Democrats, and the public, Mr DeJoy announced on Aug 18 that he was suspending those cuts until after the election. But postal workers said the damage has already been done and is not being reversed.
Michael Cinelli, 46, a postal service driver, told The Daily Telegraph: “I’m on my way to the sorting office right now. Now we get a certain amount of time to pick up and leave. Sometimes you have to go out with nothing on your truck because nothing’s been processed.
“The problem starts with processing. If the mail doesn’t get brought down from there to transportation in time, then it doesn’t go. It might be the elevator gets delayed, or the elevator doors are open but you have to leave the mail in the elevator because it’s time to go. I’ve seen nothing like it before. We used to just wait for them to finish processing.”
Mr Cinelli said he didn’t know if the postal service would be able to handle the deluge of expected mail-in ballots for the election.
“Until it happens we just can’t tell,” he said. “We don’t know what volume’s going to come through. We can’t predict it. I’d like to predict the lotto numbers but I can’t.”
The mail is not getting processed quickly enough at depots around the country because, according to the American Postal Workers Union, Mr DeJoy’s cuts involved decommissioning 671 mail sorting machines, about 13 per cent of the national total, this year.
It said 618 of those machines were to be taken offline by Aug 1. That included 59 and 34 in the key states of Florida and Ohio respectively.
The vast majority of the machines were massive “delivery bar code sorters,” known as DBCSs, which can each sift up to 35,000 pieces of mail an hour.
When Mr DeJoy suspended the cuts, according to workers at sorting offices across the US, many of the machines had already been dismantled and are not now being brought back ahead of the election.