PHOENIX — Arizona’s top election official wants a state investigation into whether President Trump and his administration are conspiring to violate a state law making it a crime to knowingly delay delivery of a ballot.
Secretary of State Katie Hobbs pointed out that Louis DeJoy, a donor to the Trump campaign and the president’s appointed postmaster general, has announced what he called changes to the “organizational structure” of the financially struggling Postal Service.
That includes eliminating overtime, meaning some items at the post office would be left for the following day. There also would be hiring freezes.
Hobbs also cited reports that mail-sorting machines were being deactivated or removed entirely.
“The effect of these changes, taken individually or together, is an extended transit period for mail,” she wrote in a formal complaint to Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich.
Brnovich is involved because the Legislature, at his request, gave him $530,000 a year in 2019 to create a special Elections Integrity Unit to investigate allegations of fraud.
Hobbs, in her complaint, said the issue is more complex than budget problems, suggesting that the Trump administration is attempting to “sabotage” the postal service with the goal of preventing Arizonans from exercising their rights.
The timing comes right before a major election, she noted. Hobbs also pointed to the broad interest in voting by mail, saying about 85% of the ballots cast in the Aug. 4 primary came in that way.
On top of that are very public comments by the president arguing that voting by mail could lead to inaccurate and fraudulent results.
Finally, Hobbs pointed out that Trump was asked about efforts by some in Congress to provide $25 billion in emergency funding for the Postal Service.
“They need that money in order to have the post office work so it can take all these millions and millions of ballots,” he told Fox News. “If they don’t get those items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting because they’re not equipped to have it.”
Hobbs, a Democrat, said that shows Trump is acting intentionally.
“There’s no need to read between the lines here,” she told Brnovich who, like Trump, is a Republican. “The president explicitly admitted to an intentional effort to interfere with the USPS’ ability to deliver ballots by mail.”
It’s not clear that Trump’s comments were an attack on current practices or more in response to a bid by some congressional Democrats to enact federal legislation to expand and fund vote-by-mail across the nation and expand other early voting options. The response by the president and many Republicans has been to question the integrity and security of early voting.
Hobbs said the president’s comments and the refusal to fund the postal service have to be seen in context. She said this isn’t just any normal election.
She said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends voting by mail as the safest way of casting a ballot given the COVID-19 outbreak.
“He is directly trying to undermine that,” Hobbs said. “He is trying to disenfranchise voters and make it harder for them to participate when it’s the safest way for them to vote right now.”
Earlier this week, Thomas Marshall, general counsel and executive vice president of the Postal Service, warned officials in Arizona and other states that delivery delays could mean that many ballots may not get delivered on time to be counted.
Hobbs said that already forced her office to modify its longstanding advice to voters to get their ballots in the mail six days ahead of Election Day. Arizona law says any ballot not received by 7 p.m. on Election Day is not counted.
Her letter to Brnovich refers to a law that makes it a Class 3 misdemeanor to knowingly delay delivery of a ballot. That subjects the offender to a fine of $500 and up to 30 days in county jail.
But she said this is about more than the criminal code.
“Arizona’s Constitution states that ‘all elections shall be free and equal, and no power, civil or military, shall at any time interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage,’ ” she wrote. “In a state where the vast majority of voters choose to do so by mail, attempts to sabotage the USPS just months before an election are most certainly attempts to interfere with ‘the free exercise of the right of suffrage.’”
The attorney general, for his part, was noncommittal — and a bit dismissive.
“We review every complaint, regardless of merit,” Brnovich said in a prepared statement.
Brnovich, in a swipe at Hobbs, said he “will continue to protect the integrity of our elections, even when other state officials won’t.”
He was referring to the fact that Hobbs has sided with some organizations that have challenged changes in election laws approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Watch Now: Mental Health during COVID-19