1. Opinion

Fund the postal service and count the mail ballots | Editorial

Voters shouldn't have to worry that their ballots might get lost in the mail.

Being president of the United States has privileges. So even though President Donald Trump didn’t request his Florida mail ballot until Wednesday — far too late in the game — it will magically wing its way to the White House, and he can be sure it will be returned in time to be counted for Tuesday’s primary. If only the rest of us were so lucky. Because less than a day later, the president threatened to scupper a coronavirus relief package if it bailed out the U.S. Postal Service and provided $25 billion in emergency money to help handle the millions of mail ballots that will be cast this year.

“If we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money,” Trump said in a Fox Business interview. “That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting; they just can’t have it.” The Postal Service’s timely delivery of mail — not just ballots — should not be hostage to relief package negotiations.

When Trump recently floated the idea of postponing the presidential election because of the pandemic, Republican leaders rightly pushed back and said the election could and would go on. They should also condemn the idea of hamstringing the postal service in the run-up to the Nov. 3 general election. To his credit, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., broke with the president Friday, saying, “The Postal Service will have the funding that it needs. We will make sure of that.” It would be good to hear similar responses from Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott and a chorus of Republican senators.

Roughly 1.9 million Floridians have already cast mail ballots in Tuesday’s primary, nearly 570,000 more than in the entire 2018 primary. Floridians increasingly prefer to vote by mail, and particularly during the pandemic, it makes perfect sense. Even the president, despite his criticism of how other states vote by mail, supports Florida’s mail balloting system as safe and secure. After all, it’s how he votes.

But Florida’s current rules require mail ballots to arrive by 7 p.m. on Election Day or else they are not counted, no matter when they were mailed. An exception: Overseas ballots count if they arrive within 10 days of the election so long as they were postmarked by Election Day. With the vagaries of mail deliveries from an underfunded and overstressed postal service, voters need to make sure they mail their ballots in plenty of time or drop them off. They also can track their ballots on the Supervisor of Elections websites. It’s incumbent on elections supervisors to make clear the importance of mailing ballots on time. Florida historically has razor-thin elections, and the tens of thousands of mail ballots that barely arrive on time are more than the margin of victory in a number of races. What if they are a day late this year?

There are solutions. Gov. Ron DeSantis has emergency powers because of the pandemic. If questions mount about the speed of postal delivery, he should consider waiving the 7 p.m. Election Day mail ballot deadline. Extending that deadline to 10 days after the election — just as it is for overseas ballots — would be prudent. A voter who mails her ballot in good faith and in good time before Election Day should not be disenfranchised simply because the mail couldn’t get through.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news