Last Thursday, Democracy Fund senior advisor and “postal whisperer” Tammy Patrick had a crucially important piece in electionlineWeekly about an issue many in the election community may have missed – but should be watching closely: a potential U.S. withdrawal from the Universal Postal Union. Take a look:
Since 1874 the majority of nations around the world have been in an established compact under the Universal Postal Union (UPU) to receive and deliver each other’s mail. The UPU is one of the oldest international organizations, monitoring disputes and governing the rates that countries charge for mail receipt and delivery. In October 2018, the current administration announced that the U.S. was initiating the one-year withdrawal process from the UPU due to a dispute over the discounted postal rates charged on Chinese packages shipped to the United States.
In February and April, UPU working committees met, but were ultimately unable to advance the U.S. proposal, and media coverage suggest that the administration is fully preparing for a withdrawal in October. If the U.S. proceeds with its withdrawal from the union, we will need to seek bilateral agreements with countries to maintain the 192 relationships and negotiate individual mail rates—causing an unnecessary drain on taxpayer dollars and government resources. This situation has largely been off of the radar for many Americans, including election administrators and voters.
Impact on Military and Overseas Voters
UOCAVA voters have the right to receive their ballot 45 days before Election Day, and they may request to have that ballot sent electronically or by the mail. Connectivity varies globally for our voters as does their proximity to, and frequency of mail delivery—even under the agreements set forth with the UPU. Disruption to the already fragile and tenuous services available to this voting population could have dramatic implications. One of our most vulnerable voting populations are those Americans who find themselves out of the country during election time. Time and distance, access to information and infrastructure, can impede their ability to vote. Indeed, there have been numerous studies – including the oft-cited Pew study “No Time to Vote” – that highlight the challenges voters face. Federal law, under the Uniformed and Overseas Civilian Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA), seeks to mitigate the barriers these voters encounter—but it never contemplated that there would be a potential halt to the physical delivery of the mail.…