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Trump's Comments On USPS Funding Has Voters Worried

NOEL KING, HOST:

The president's critics often say Trump says the quiet part out loud. That seemed to be what was going on yesterday when the president explained why he opposes funding for the Postal Service. He was talking to Fox Business News. And he said if he blocks the money, he can also block mail-in voting. This was a remarkable thing to admit publicly. But then, later in the day at a press conference, he said something more nuanced. NPR's Miles Parks covers election security. He's here to explain what went on yesterday. Hey, Miles.

MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

KING: Explain how the president's statements evolved.

PARKS: Sure. So initially, President Trump seemed to say that as part of this next congressional stimulus package, he didn't want Postal Service funding. This is the billions of dollars that Democrats put in their proposal that they note the USPS has asked for because the organization is heading towards falling off a financial cliff, honestly. Trump said he opposed it, essentially, because it allowed Democrats to implement what he called a universal mail-in voting system.

That part of it is just not true. Each state runs their own election system individually. And only a handful are planning to send ballots to all registered voters. Many of those states that are doing that were also already doing it before the pandemic hit. Also, it's worth noting that the USPS does a lot more than just send mail ballots every day. So then, yesterday afternoon, he sort of walked that back in his press conference by saying it would not be a sticking point for him, that he would potentially sign legislation that includes money for the post office if it comes to him. But he's still strongly opposed to the overall idea of mail voting expansion.

KING: OK. So there are election officials running this election in November. What was their response to what the president said yesterday?

PARKS: In general, it was a lot of worrying from election officials. You know, this is an area where they actually have very little control. They can print out the ballots on time. They can get all of those security measures in place. They can get them sent out to voters on time and to the right addresses. And then at that point, it's sort of out of their hands and in the hands of the Postal Service. I talked to Maggie Toulouse Oliver, who's the secretary of state of New Mexico. And she also leads the National Association of Secretaries of State.

MAGGIE TOULOUSE OLIVER: I'm just really, you know, sad, quite frankly, that voting in general continues to be such a partisan issue. And it's really discouraging, I think, for voters.

PARKS: What was also surprising that she told me is that she has yet to hear from the new leadership at the post office. This is the head of the group of the most important election officials in the country. And she said she and the leadership of the association have requested a conversation with the postmaster general, but that they have not received a response yet.

KING: OK. So that is another thing that you sort of look at it and you think, how should we be confident in this setup? Is it looking like money for the Postal Service will be included in the next stimulus package from Congress?

PARKS: It still seems likely at this point if for no other reason than that the post office has bipartisan support nationwide and in Congress. You know, numerous Republican senators have come out in support of it over the past few weeks. And broadly, it's really popular with the public. A Pew study from April found that 91% of Americans had a favorable view of the post office, which is just kind of an extraordinarily high number. It was higher than any other federal agency that Pew asked about.

KING: And yet, some people are obviously going to be nervous now to use the Postal Service to vote. How are election officials responding to that anxiety?

PARKS: I think the biggest thing is that they're giving advice to voters that they want to turn in their ballots early. That's what Toulouse Oliver told me. New Mexico actually implemented a change this summer where all mail-in ballots are going to say, do not mail this in later than a week before the election. So in some states, if it's within that week, you're going to want to turn in your ballot either to your local elections official in person to their office or to a ballot drop box. It's kind of different everywhere. But the key is if you're getting close to a deadline or close to the election, don't rely on the post office for just a super quick turnaround. Honestly, that was probably good advice even before the pandemic hit. You want to give them time to work.

KING: Yeah. Fair point. NPR's Miles Parks. Thanks, Miles.

PARKS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.