Abolish Postmaster General Position and Depoliticize the Post Office | Opinion

As Postmaster General Louis DeJoy prepares to testify, broader questions arise as to the proper role of the postal service in processing mail-in ballots.

The current controversy over whether the postmaster general is making decisions to help his party win elections should lead to a bipartisan effort to remove the postal service from politics. Whether these allegations are true, false or somewhere in between, they require a hard look at the role of the postal service in our electoral system. With the increasing use of mail-in ballots—even absent the present pandemic—it has become increasingly important to ensure that that the postmaster general, regardless of party affiliation, does not have the power to influence voting.

Historically, the Cabinet position of postmaster general was given by both parties as a reward to the campaign manager of the winning presidential candidate. It was a patronage job with a multiplier effect: The postmaster general could give more patronage jobs to party loyalists around the country. But now that the postal service has one of the most sensitive and crucial roles in a democracy—to assure that mail-in ballots are fairly, efficiently and quickly processed—there is no place for partisanship or patronage.

Congress has the power to depoliticize the post office. It should begin by abolishing the grand title of postmaster general and substituting the less political title of CEO.

The job of heading and running the postal service should be a non-political civil service position allocated on the basis of experience as a successful CEO of a company in a related business. His or her mandate would be to run the postal service economically, efficiently, fairly and non-politically.

Ideally the CEO of the post office should be selected by a non-partisan board of experts, without any input from the president. A 1971 law moved in that direction, but not far enough.

All Americans should agree that full voter turnout must be the goal of every election. Deliberate voter suppression is undemocratic and un-American. Some countries make voting mandatory. We do not. But we certainly should make every effort to maximize voting throughout the country, regardless of who is benefited by a large turnout. Today, it may be the Democrats. Tomorrow, it may be the Republicans. But every day, democracy benefits by maximizing turnout.

USPS mailboxes
USPS mailboxes Theo Wargo/Getty Images

The current pandemic will almost certainly reduce the number of voters. Many who traditionally go to the polls will stay home. Some will not get their mail-in ballots on time. Others will misplace them or delay responding. So extra efforts should now be made to encourage voting, while also discouraging fraud.

I remember back in the day, when all candidates would urge all Americans to vote. There may have been surreptitious efforts, even back then, to suppress voting by some groups, especially minority groups. This is still a problem, especially since the courts have pushed back against legislative efforts to eliminate discriminatory barriers to voting.

Elections must not only be scrupulously fair; they must also be seen to be fair. The coming presidential election is already the subject of controversy because of disputes over alleged actions taken, and not taken, by the postmaster general and his subordinates. The election of 2016 was controversial, as was the election of 2000 (in which I played a small legal role). It is imperative that the coming election be seen by all as fair and reflecting the voting preferences of all eligible voters. We do not need a repeat of 2000, when the presidency may well have been decided by the nine divided votes of the Supreme Court justices, rather than by the will of the voters.

There will be time after this election to consider the structural changes in the postal service that I and others have recommended. For now, however, there must be assurances that the postmaster general and the postal service do not put barriers in the way of voters who wish to cast their ballots by mail.

Alan Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter professor of law, emeritus at Harvard Law School. Follow him on Twitter: @AlanDersh.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.