20 mail sorting machines being taken out of service in Minnesota

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar speaks at a press conference with Senator Tina Smith (right) in front of a Post Office in Golden Valley to criticize cuts to the U.S. Postal Service ahead of the 2020 election. Photo by Deena Winter/Minnesota Reformer.

This story has been updated.

Seven mail sorting machines are being decommissioned in Minneapolis along with 13 more across the state, according to a new lawsuit filed in Washington.

Ten machines can each process up to 500,00 pieces of mail a day, according to Reuters.*

While standing outside a post office in Golden Valley, U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith held a press conference Tuesday to highlight concerns about decommissioned sorting machines and disappearing blue mail collection boxes that have slowed snail mail.

“People are really dismayed about what is going on,” Klobuchar said.

The health of the U.S. Postal Service has become an emotional issue as Americans rely on it more during the pandemic, including to cast their ballots in the upcoming election.

Smith said she’s received thousands of messages from constituents concerned about what’s going on at the Postal Service. One said she’s not getting her prescription through the mail. The owner of a nursery said deliveries are taking three to five days, rather than the usual one or two days, to the detriment of plant health. And another said it took 16 days for a letter from Cook County to reach her home in Duluth, 1.5 hours away.

“Now this is unacceptable, and in a moment where we are facing a global pandemic and an economic crisis caused by that global pandemic, we should not be undermining the United States Postal Service, we should be shoring it up,” Smith said.

A lot of smaller farmers and rural communities rely on the postal service to get mail, and even Amazon relies on it for the last few miles of some deliveries, Klobuchar said.

The senators said they’re hearing about everything from checks to chicks arriving late now that U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is in charge of the Postal Service. Klobuchar and Smith called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring senators back to vote on the $25 billion bill the U.S. House passed to fund the postal service.

“I would rather put ballots in the mailbox than Minnesotans in the hospital,” Klobuchar said.

She said DeJoy made the changes without talking to the people who do the work, like Samantha Hartwig, a 19-year veteran letter carrier.

Hartwig allayed fears about the election, saying in 2019 the Postal Service averaged 450 million pieces of mail per day, but now they’re averaging 300 to 400 million, so they can handle ballots.

DeJoy acknowledged Friday during an oversight hearing in the U.S. Senate that his overhaul of the Postal Service has coincided with a drop in on-time deliveries but called allegations that they were intended to suppress votes “outrageous.”

He said changes to overtime, retail hours and the location of mail processing machines and blue mailboxes were made to save money and streamline operations but said earlier this week he would suspend some of his moves until after the elections to avoid the appearance of impropriety. He also said he wouldn’t close existing mail processing facilities and would use “standby” resources in October to meet mail surges.

On Friday, he insisted that secure elections are his “sacred duty” and top priority this fall.

With the election 70 days away, Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon said Minnesotans should still consider voting from home by mail this year, by ordering a ballot from mnvotes.org, where they can also track their ballot.

“Whoever may be trying to slow down the postal service will not slow down democracy in Minnesota,” he said.

But they should get their ballot in as soon as possible. A judge has ordered that this year, ballots can be counted as long as they’re postmarked by Election Day. Then the state has a week to count them.

“There’s a reason why Minnesota has been No. 1 in voter turnout the last two elections in a row is because Minnesotans will find a way and we will let no one stand in the way… not even the postmaster general,” Simon  said.

*This story was updated to accurately reflect the total amount of mail each of the machines can sort.