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Wyden says democracy is at stake

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, sounded the alarm Tuesday in Ashland over what he called President Donald Trump’s attempts to undermine the election by undercutting vote-by-mail.

“What’s on the line right now is democracy,” Wyden said before a small gathering at the post office in downtown Ashland.

Wyden said he’s called for the resignation of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy over his recent cost-cutting efforts such as the removal of sorting equipment from some communities in the U.S. Also warnings were sent out that the U.S. Postal Service might not be able to handle the volume of mail-in ballots this November.

In January 1996, Oregon became the first state to conduct a general election totally by mail to fill a vacancy in a federal office, when it selected Wyden to replace Sen. Bob Packwood.

“This is as important as anything I’ve seen in my time in public service,” he said. “I never imagined a president of the United States could say, ‘I’m discouraging people from participating because they might not vote for me.’”

Wyden said he thinks Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should call the Senate back into session to deal with the postal crisis as well as vote on a bill to help the economy during the pandemic.

The existence of the Postal Service is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, specifically Article I, Section 8, Clause 7.

Lawsuits have been filed recently by 20 states, including Oregon, opposed to changes at the Postal Service, including removal of mail-processing equipment and postal boxes.

On Wednesday, after Wyden had spoken, DeJoy said the changes would be halted until after the election.

Responding later to DeJoy’s announcement, Wyden said in a prepared statement that it sounds like DeJoy’s reversal came after overwhelming grassroots response.

Still, Wyden said he will remain vigilant with both Trump and DeJoy, given Trump’s track record with vote-by-mail.

In the midst of a pandemic that has gripped the nation, Wyden said, the U.S. Postal Service is more important than ever. He said many people, including those on Medicare, depend on the mail for the delivery of prescription medications.

Also, more people than ever throughout the country will cast their votes by absentee ballot. He said mailing a ballot will be as important for those in rural areas as for those in cities.

He said Trump has provided no evidence that vote-by-mail is susceptible to fraud.

Trump and Melania Trump have both requested mail-in ballots in Florida, though Trump has called Florida’s vote-by-mail system “safe and secure.”

Wyden said that despite the president’s rhetoric, the vote-by-mail system doesn’t favor one political party over another.

So far, the cutbacks to the Postal Service that have affected other cities in the country, including Portland, don’t seem to have impacted local carriers, though it appears this area was ready for cutbacks.

“There have been plans announced to remove mail-processing equipment from the Medford mail-processing plant, which speaks to a potential slowdown,” said Jeremy Schilling, president of the Southern Oregon Local American Postal Workers Union 342. There has not been an active slowdown as of yet, he said.

He did say there have been changes in management at the Postal Service in Jackson County, which he said were likely in preparation for cutbacks.

So far, though, he said postal employees, including himself, continue to be paid overtime, something that has been cut in other areas.

Schilling said his local union represents 120 dues-paying members and 20 nonpaying members, and it covers Jackson County as well as Cave Junction in Josephine County.

“Every postal worker is ready to deliver for America,” he said.

Courtney Wilson, vice president of Medical Affairs for Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center as well as a practicing ER physician, said many people depend on the Postal Service for their prescriptions, and some insurance companies require a mail-service prescription.

“For those with limited mobility or transportation, it’s really the only option for those who receive prescriptions,” she said.

With COVID-19, Wilson said, the shelter-in-place efforts have expanded the appeal of prescriptions through the mail.

Other problems with a slowdown in the mail system could affect the viability of medications that are shipped in coolers or packed in ice.

State Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, said the data is clear that vote-by-mail is safe and preserves the integrity of the vote.

He said he hopes that all political parties realize there is a threat to the voting system by the cutbacks to the Postal Service, and he amplified Wyden’s warning.

“He’s not exaggerating when he says that democracy is at stake,” Golden said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

Sen. Ron Wyden