Will Trump try to target voter access through an executive order?

Team Trump has reportedly explored "possible executive actions" the president could take to "curb mail-in voting."
Photo: U.S. postal service truck
U.S. postal service trucks sit parked at the post office in Del Mar, Calif., on Nov. 13, 2013.Mike Blake / Reuters file
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By Steve Benen

Donald Trump and his political operation have made little secret of their plans to make voting as difficult as possible in 2020. The president and his team have pushed for voter-suppression tactics; they've filed lawsuits to challenge state-based efforts to ease voter access; and, of course, they've launched an aggressive campaign against mail-in voting, even as Trump and many of his aides cast their ballots through the mail.

What the president has not done, at least not yet, is take executive action designed to interfere with Americans' voting rights. That may change.

It didn't cause much of a stir, but at a White House press briefing early last week, a reporter asked Trump whether he'd consider issuing an executive order in the hopes of derailing postal balloting. "Well, I have the right to do it," the Republican responded. "We haven't gotten there yet, but we'll see what happens."

In reality, Trump has no such "right," at least not under the U.S. Constitution. But by the end of the week, Politico published a report on this that suggested the White House is actually considering such a step.

[A]round the time Trump started musing about delaying the election last week, aides and outside advisers began scrambling to ponder possible executive actions he could take to curb mail-in voting -- everything from directing the postal service to not deliver certain ballots to stopping local officials from counting them after Election Day.

It was one of those paragraphs I found myself reading more than once, because it was so striking. Because of the pandemic, the American electorate is more reliant than ever on the U.S. Postal System to distribute, retrieve, and deliver ballots. It's against this backdrop that Team Trump -- whose authoritarian instincts are well documented -- has explored "possible executive actions" the president could take to "curb mail-in voting."

It's possible this is some kind of trial balloon, and the White House will gauge the reactions. With that in mind, it's probably worth grabbing a sling-shot.

But it's also possible, as Rachel documented on last night's show, that Trump's efforts in this area are already underway. The president chose a campaign donor, Louis DeJoy, to serve as postmaster general, and as the Washington Post reported, his tenure is already having an adverse effect on the USPS.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy unveiled a sweeping overhaul of the nation's mail service, displacing the two top executives overseeing day-to-day operations, according to a reorganization memo released Friday. The shake-up came as congressional Democrats called for an investigation of DeJoy and the cost-cutting measures that have slowed mail delivery and ensnared ballots in recent primary elections. Twenty-three postal executives were reassigned or displaced, the new organizational chart shows. Analysts say the structure centralizes power around DeJoy, a former logistics executive and major ally of President Trump, and de-emphasizes decades of institutional postal knowledge. All told, 33 staffers included in the old postal hierarchy either kept their jobs or were reassigned in the restructuring, with five more staffers joining the leadership from other roles.

Note, this overhaul unfolded late on a Friday -- Team Trump's favorite time to make changes it hopes the public won't notice.

For more on this, I'd strongly recommended yesterday's piece from Marc Elias, a Democratic lawyer on elections and voting rights, who was a guest on last night's show.