BISMARCK — North Dakota's congressional delegation defended the president Friday, Aug. 14, after he expressed opposition to emergency funding for the U.S. Postal Service, relief he linked directly to the expansion of vote-by-mail for November's election.
"Like President (Donald) Trump, I oppose the HEROES Act and Democratic efforts to hastily implement an unprecedented universal mail-in voting system which would be ripe for fraud," wrote Sen. Kevin Cramer in a statement to The Forum, referring to the Democrat's proposed $3 trillion coronavirus emergency aid package.
The statement came in response to Trump's comments to Fox News Thursday, in which he said he opposed a multi-billion dollar injection into the U.S. Postal Service aimed at expanding mail-in voting infrastructure in anticipation of an unprecedented election.
"They want 3 1/2 billion dollars for something that'll turn out to be fraudulent, that's election money, basically. They want 3 1/2 billion dollars for the mail-in votes. Universal mail-in ballots. They want $25 billion, billion, for the Post Office. Now they need that money in order to make the Post Office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots," Trump said. "If they don't get those two items, that means you can't have universal mail-in voting because they're not equipped to have it."
Despite the president's comments, Cramer said he remains "confident the Trump Administration will make sure the USPS has the necessary resources and takes the appropriate steps to handle the expected increases in mail-in voting."
While Trump has stirred anxiety about voter fraud related to mail-in ballots for much of the summer, there is no evidence to suggest widespread voter fraud linked to vote-by-mail, and recent research suggests voting by mail increases turnout for both parties equally.
USPS and vote-by-mail have become the centers of partisan division over the last few months, as Trump has threatened to de-fund the post office ahead of an election that is likely to rely on mail-in ballots more than any general election in history. The president's comments also come as USPS sent out letters to 46 states, including North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota, warning that it cannot guarantee the delivery of all ballots in time to be counted this November, according to a Washington Post report on Friday.
In an interview with The Forum, Sen. John Hoeven echoed the president's concerns about election fraud, citing potential issues in Nevada and California.
"In Nevada, they just send the ballots to everybody, and they don't even verify addresses. So people could get ballots where you'd have a different person living at that address and the address hasn't been updated," he said, adding, "in California, you have issues with ballot harvesting."
Hoeven underscored the importance of absentee voting for North Dakota's rural communities in the November election.
"The USPS provides an essential service for North Dakotans, as it links the most rural of communities to the rest of our state, country and world," he said. "As we work to reach agreement on the next phase of COVID-19 relief, we need to ensure that any additional assistance is a targeted and responsible use of taxpayer dollars."
However, Hoeven suggested he was not ready to greenlight more funding for the postal service. He noted USPS received $10 billion in CARES Act funding during the last round of coronavirus relief, funds he said the office has not yet exhausted.
Rep. Kelly Armstrong also emphasized the importance of USPS and cited his track record supporting the program in the past, through co-sponsorship of the 2019 USPS Service Act, a bill that would have freed up $2 billion in funding for the Postal Service. Armstrong also pointed to hold-ups imposed by Democratic leadership that he says have allowed the post office to reach a desperate position ahead of the election.
In recent weeks, the president's comments have sparked debate in conservative circles and on Capitol Hill about privatizing the Postal Service, an effort Amstrong stressed he would not support.
"I know that there are some of my colleagues who believe in privatization. I do not," he said. "The reason I don't is because the last mile of delivery is obviously the most expensive and obviously really important in North Dakota."
Zach Raknerud, Armstrong's opponent for the U.S. House this November, waded into the controversy to express support for emergency USPS funding.
"I wholeheartedly condemn President Trump's actions to slow (USPS) services and holding out relief funding for partisan reasons," he said in a statement. "Too many veterans in rural North Dakota rely on the Postal Service to deliver life-saving medication on time and at low cost. That's exactly what the USPS has done for generations."
With November's election just months away, Armstrong said it may be too late to revamp the Postal Service in time for the election.
"We escalate these issues at the last minute, and then we have the attention span of fruit flies, forget to remember that we've had years to do this in the committee I serve on, and we have done nothing," he said.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Adam Willis, a Report for America corps member, at email@example.com.