Little Rock residents lined the street Saturday outside the Brady Post Office at 8509 W. Markham St. demonstrating their opposition to changes implemented and planned at the U.S. Postal Service, joining in Saturday’s national #SaveThePostOffice demonstrations.
“We’re here with groups across the country today to support the post office as an essential institution that every American relies on,” organizer Loriee Evans said. “We’re here to show support for free and fair elections, and to depose any attempt to use the post office to suppress voting.”
Recent Postal Service changes implemented by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy have caused slowdowns in mail delivery nationwide and raised concern that voters’ ballots, mailed in because of pandemic fears at the polls, will arrive in the mail too late to be counted.
The Little Rock demonstrators signed an oversize letter Saturday addressed to U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Ark., urging him to support legislation to prevent Postal Service changes and support emergency funding for the agency.
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The U.S. House of Representatives passed such legislation in an emergency session Saturday, but Hill of Little Rock did not support it.
“There is no existential crisis,” Hill said in a Facebook post. “Today’s ’emergency’ vote was just another attempt by Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi to scare the American people and score cheap political points in an election year.”
Ralliers Saturday also urged Gov. Asa Hutchinson to extend the state’s deadline for receiving ballots past Election Day.
Evans said the post office is even more essential now because of the pandemic than it has been and that increased funding for it should be just as essential.
“The post office is always a critical American service,” Evans said. “People rely on it for lifesaving medicine. They rely on it for benefits, but this year in particular, due to the pandemic,” she said. “People should be able protect their health and avoid the polls.
“The answer to voting safely is voting absentee in Arkansas, and being able to rely on the post office and be confident that your vote is going to be received and counted is absolutely crucial,” she said.
The deadline for votes in Arkansas to be received by the county clerks is Election Day, Nov. 3, but Evans suggests that because of the expected surge in mail-in ballots that the deadline be extended to Nov. 13.
“I think that our postal workers are going to work as hard as they can to make sure that our ballots get received as quickly as possible, but there’s going to be a huge surge in mail-in voting because of covid-19,” Evans said.
Pulaski County Clerk Teri Hollingsworth is “a bit mixed over” extending the mail-in vote but ultimately thinks that the rules shouldn’t change.
“I do have a concern, because of this pandemic, to make sure that those absentee ballots get in on time, but I think the rules should stay as is,” Hollingsworth said. “I’m just asking voters, when they do receive the ballot, which we’re scheduled to mail out Sept. 18, once they get it that they vote it immediately and return it.”
Hollingsworth said if voters fill it out right then and return it quickly, there should be no concern about it arriving too late to be counted.
John Coffin, 83, who was at Saturday’s protest in Little Rock, said he had an uncle who worked in the post office years ago.
“He was postmaster in a very small town in Iowa,” Coffin said.
Coffin is upset about what’s happening with the Postal Service now.
“[For] the last three or four weeks, the news out of the Postal Service was, from my perspective, outrageous that the postmaster generals were essentially shutting the service down very slowly and gradually,” Coffin said.
Many people, including President Donald Trump, have expressed concern over mail-in ballots, saying that they open the door to voter fraud.
But, Evans and Hollingsworth say that’s just not a concern.
“We would love to hear our congressman, French Hill, call out President Trump’s myth mongering on absentee voter fraud,” Evans said. “That would be an excellent public service.”
Hollingsworth said she has handled instances in which someone, usually an older person, has forgotten that he voted absentee and has gone to the polls to vote again, but she has not seen outright voter fraud.
“To my knowledge there is no voter fraud in Pulaski County,” she said.