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Suspension of Post Office changes is welcome

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy announced Tuesday that the Postal Service will suspend any changes in its operations until after the November election. The announcement came in response to a nationwide outcry over the removal of sorting equipment and changes in operational practices that critics saw as an attempt to hamper the delivery of mail ballots for the election.

It’s unclear whether any of the equipment would be reinstalled or any of the changes reversed. More may become clear when DeJoy and the chairman of the USPS Board of Governors testify before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee on Friday and a House committee on Monday.

Administration officials have denied the changes were intended to harm the Postal Service, saying DeJoy is trying to increase the agency’s efficiency, and noting that some of the changes have been in the works for some time. But a letter from the Postal Service’s general counsel to elections officials in 46 states warned that some ballots might not be deliverable on time because of state deadlines and the USPS’ delivery capabilities.

That caused real concern among state officials, and a group of Democratic attorneys general, including Oregon’s Ellen Rosenblum, announced on Tuesday that they were filing suit over the changes, saying they were made unlawfully.

It’s difficult to know for sure what’s really happening inside the Postal Service, which has been faithfully delivering the mail since 1775. And the added pressure of ramped-up voting by mail prompted by the coronavirus pandemic has complicated matters even further.

But reported slowdowns in mail delivery, whether deliberate or not, are a cause for real concern, and not just because of the election. Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden noted Tuesday during a visit to the Rogue Valley that one in five Americans receives prescription medications from mail-order pharmacies, and delays in delivering crucial medicine can be life-threatening.

The good news is that slowdowns in deliveries haven’t hit Southern Oregon yet, although the Medford mail-sorting center had been scheduled for some equipment removal until DeJoy’s announcement.

Oregon’s vote-by-mail system is less at risk than in other states because Oregon has 20 years of practice running all-mail elections without a hitch. And Oregon voters are accustomed to mailing their ballots early because this state requires ballots to arrive at the county Elections Department by 8 p.m. on Election Day; postmarks do not count. And anyone concerned about their ballot getting there on time can always drop it off at any of several drop boxes around the county.

Can the Postal Service be made more efficient? Probably, but slowing down important deliveries of medication or ballots is not an acceptable side effect. If changes need to be made — and Congress should make sure they really are needed — they should not happen this close to a presidential election being conducted in the midst of a pandemic.