The 2020 election has pushed a long-neglected institution into the national spotlight: the United States Postal Service (USPS). In the months leading up to the election, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy initiated reforms to cut expenses throughout the postal system. Those changes delayed mail delivery nationwide and sparked fears of voter disenfranchisement. At the same time, U.S. President Donald Trump assailed vote-by-mail and the Postal Service, falsely asserting that mail-in voting could lead to large-scale voter fraud. Despite those criticisms, as of October 22, nearly 50 million Americans have already cast their ballots by mail.
The 2020 election is hardly the first time that the postal system has strengthened American democracy. Since 1775, the U.S. Postal Service has undertaken a distinct mission to provide a public service to all Americans and promote civic engagement. The agency’s proclaimed purpose is “to bind the nation together,” and its unofficial motto embraces its role as “enlarger of the common life.” In contrast, the modest mission of the European Union’s postal systems—“to ensure that affordable, high quality and efficient postal services are available throughout the EU”—is much closer to the international norm. The United States is distinct in ascribing to its postal system the lofty aspiration of promoting democratic ideals.