It's more than just disappearing blue post boxes that have Portland postal workers worried about their leadership undermining the presidential election. Joe Cogan, the head of Portland's postal union, says there are several recent changes to service that has raised alarm among local United States Postal Service (USPS) employees about hampering Oregon's vote-by-mail system.
A social media post about USPS boxes being removed in Northeast Portland last week drew national attention Thursday, just hours after Donald Trump publicly stated that he didn’t want to fund USPS because he doesn’t want people to be able to vote by mail in November. A USPS spokesperson for Oregon told the Mercury that the postal boxes were simply removed because of a pandemic-related decline in outgoing mail—and not for political reasons.
Cogan, president of the local chapter of the American Postal Workers’ Union, told the Mercury that he’s still “investigating” why those post boxes were removed. But more concerning to Cogan is the current removal of mail processing machines from a USPS processing and distribution facility near the Portland International Airport.
“When we opened that facility a couple years ago, we had 50 or 51 letter mail processing machines,” Cogan said. “And I believe we’re down to 45 or less.”
This reduction started happening after Trump appointed Louis DeJoy—a major Trump donor—to Postmaster General in June.
Cogan said those processing machines are typically used to process ballots during an election, and that the reduction of machines could slow that work. Vice News recently reported that the machines are being deactivated or removed from postal offices across the country.
The USPS did not reply to the Mercury’s request for comment about the mail processing machine removal. We’ll update this post if we hear back.
In addition to the removal of processing machines, Cogan has also heard reports from union members of “delayed mail, or mail left for delivery at a later date.” Cogan faults new policies from DeJoy for the slowed-down service.
“Myself and all the other postal employees I represent—and the ones I don’t represent—are committed to the delivery of the mail in a timely, efficient, and prompt fashion,” Cogan said. “And a majority of us believe that all of these [actions] are an attempt to destroy the post office, slow down the mail, and that these actions are not good for an organization many of us have dedicated decades of our lives to."
Elected officials have also taken note of slowed-down mail service in Oregon. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, who represent Oregon in the US Senate, held a press conference outside of a Portland post office Friday to talk about delays in prescription medicine deliveries, and also commented on threats to Oregon's vote-by-mail system.
"What Donald Trump is talking about is eventually privatizing the postal service," Wyden said. "We are going to make sure that every single ballot that's cast is going to be counted. We are not going to let Donald Trump and his bullies take away that sacred vote-by-mail effort that Oregon has spent decades creating."
Wyden added that he'd recently spoken with Gov. Kate Brown and officials from Oregon's National Guard about how "the National Guard needs to be part of this effort" of ensuring vote-by-mail works in November.
USPS spokesperson Ernie Swanson told the Mercury that the mailboxes in NE Portland were removed because of a decline in mail volume, and added that boxes were only being taken from “locations where there are multiple boxes in the same spot.”
Cogan said that while “the amount of letter mail has reduced” recently, postal workers expect to see a surge of political mailers soon, and that mail volume overall has not noticeably declined.
“Our postal business is booming,” he said. “The people I talk to, my letter carrier here at our office, and the clerks and others I speak to who handle that type of work, say it’s like Christmastime every day.”
Swanson said there’s no reason for people to worry about USPS’ ability to handle the November election.
“We’re used to carrying large volumes of mail,” he said. “Our people work directly with the election offices and secretary of state in each state… The [ballot] envelopes are a unique design, and they come pre-barcoded so they’re easily handled by the post office.”
But Cogan, who has worked for the USPS for 36 years, isn’t as confident. When asked whether he’s ever experienced anything similar to the changes he’s now witnessing, he responded: “Absolutely not.”