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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Montana's Top Elected Officials Cheer Halt To U.S. Postal Service Operational Changes

U.S. Postal Service Collection Box located in Billings, MT.
Nicky Ouellet
U.S. Postal Service Collection Box located in Billings, MT.

The U.S. Postal Service on Aug. 18 announced it’s suspending controversial cost saving measures that had raised alarms among Montana’s elected officials.

In separate statements on Aug. 18, Democratic Sen. Jon Tester and Republicans Sen. Steve Daines and Congressman Greg Gianforte welcomed news that the Post Office will drop recent operational changes until after the November election.

Tester also said the agency must reverse previous disruptions.

The news comes on the heels of USPS beginning to remove dozens of blue collection boxes in cities throughout the Treasure State late last week. Tester was the first of Montana’s elected officials to demand an explanation for the move. The rest of Montana’s congressional delegation soon followed suit, and USPS halted the removals.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said in a news release on Aug. 18 that USPS will allow overtime and cease removing collection boxes and other mail processing equipment.

"Greg is grateful the U.S. Postal Service has suspended its operational changes, and he’ll continue working to ensure Montanans do not face delays with their mail service," a spokesperson for Gianforte wrote in a statement.

“I’m pleased to see the Postal Service fully maintaining its operations and I will continue working to ensure the Postal Service has the resources needed to fulfill its critical mission in Montana and make on time deliveries,” Daines said.

“The Postal Service is a critical lifeline for thousands of Montanans, and it is welcome news that Postmaster DeJoy intends to drop the harmful changes he has instituted until after the election,” Tester said. “But this fight is far from over – Montanans rely on dependable, timely mail service to pay their bills, receive prescription drugs, and vote, and DeJoy’s actions have already caused real damage that must be repaired. I won’t stop fighting until USPS reverses the disruptions in service DeJoy has made, and until USPS has the resources and support it needs to continue delivering mail to every community in our state.”

Elected officials around the country had worried the now suspended policy changes would lead to delivery delays for prescription medications and other vital mail. Democrats, in particular, had feared the agency overhauls could impact Americans’ ability to vote by mail in the upcoming election, a practice expected to increase dramatically to prevent exposure to the novel coronavirus.

Elections officials in Lewis and Clark, Missoula and Yellowstone counties who spoke to local postmasters before the new policies were suspended had not heard of any changes that would impact ballot related postal services in their regions.

Lewis and Clark County Elections Supervisor Audrey McCue says conversations with local postal officials will continue to ensure voters are provided up to date information.

“I am asking the questions so that if there is anything we need to be prepared for, we can be prepared ahead of time,” McCue said.

Several counties have decided to conduct an all mail ballot general election, following a recent directive from Gov. Steve Bullock allowing the practice.

Ballots will be available in person this year starting Oct. 2. Counties that opt into an all mail election will send ballots to all active, registered voters Oct. 9. Voters are advised to mail their ballots back at least one week before Nov. 3 to guarantee receipt by Election Day, or else drop them off at county elections offices and other designated spots.

Residents can register to vote via mail up to 10 days before the election. They can also late register and vote in person until the polls close on Election Day.

Copyright 2020 Yellowstone Public Radio

Kevin is a UM Journalism graduate student and reporter for MTPR.
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