}

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Delivering mistakes

The USA is poised to withdraw from an international treaty that could make life more difficult for citizens who live overseas temporarily or permanently. This could affect a great many things, including voting by overseas US citizens, but the reason behind the change seems to be about money—and mistakes.

The (US) National Association of Counties (stylised as NACo) reported on its blog yesterday that the USA is about to withdraw from the United Nations’ Universal Postal Union (UPU). The UPU is a 142-year-old treaty, which the UPU describes this way:
With its 192 member countries, the UPU is the primary forum for cooperation between postal sector players. It helps to ensure a truly universal network of up-to-date products and services.

In this way, the organization fulfils an advisory, mediating and liaison role, and provides technical assistance where needed. It sets the rules for international mail exchanges and makes recommendations to stimulate growth in mail, parcel and financial services volumes and improve quality of service for customers.
Back on October 18, 2018, the White House announced (copy and paste this link to get to the White House Press Statement: http://bit.ly/33znhi6) that it was withdrawing from the UPU. That process is due to be completed on October 19, 2019—just a few short months before the 2020 presidential primary voting is due to begin.

According to estimates by the Federal Voting Assistance Programme (FVAP), and shared by NACo in the link above, there are approximately a million active duty service members and three million other US citizens living in 170 countries that are eligible to vote in federal elections, and all of them will rely, at least in part, on postal delivery. No one knows how the US withdrawal from the UPU will affect those voters.

We could find out soon. There are some state and local elections in November of this year, and some ballots will be sent out in September. That means that the withdrawal from the UPU will happen right in the middle of the 2019 voting programme, and no one knows what that will mean for returning ballots on time this year. Tt may out to be a test for what could happen in 2020.

It’s tempting for some to think that this is part of a plan to deny the vote to US citizens living overseas, but while that’s without basis, it’s definitely understandable. As everyone knows, the USA has long been notorious for its efforts to make voting harder, whether through gerrymandering districts, actively suppressing the votes of minorities or supporters of the other political party, or refusing to allow former prison inmates to vote—the list is practically endless. However, not only is there no evidence suggesting vote suppression is the reason for this, the evidence suggest that it’s merely a consequence.

First, there’s no solid data on how overseas US citizens vote. That means there’s no way of knowing which party would be most affected by the change, so targeting overseas voters could be self-defeating for the current regime, particularly since no one knows if it will affect voters at all. Second, and regardless of party preference, there just aren’t enough overseas votes to sway a statewide election, like for US Senator or US President in a state, and that means overseas voters are highly unlikely to influence what candidate gets a state’s Electoral College Votes (the only total that actually matters). That said, those votes might, at least theoretically, help determine small elections, like for US Representative. Maybe.

The real issue is that withdrawal from the UPU is that it will affect far more than just voting: Potentially, all letters, cards, small packages, etc., sent through postal services could be affected, with higher costs and potential delays. Even NACo, which is interested in the move because counties are usually responsible for sending out and receiving elections material, noted that the current regime “cited concerns over terminal due rates as the primary reason for the withdrawal and hopes to establish self-declared rates for small packages to ensure American businesses remain competitive in the e-commerce marketplace.” In other words, it’s all about money. It’s not hard to imagine the leader of the current regime calling the UPU arrangements “very unfair”. Probably in a Tweet. Well, maybe if he understood it.

The best and most likely explanation, then, is that this is all about money, as such things usually are. It seems unlikely that withdrawal from the UPU will accomplish what the current regime thinks it will, of course, which, of course, isn’t unusual for them. Based on the evidence, I think the move is absolutely ideological, but only because it’s all about money for corporations. It’s also probably about the current regime’s general, ordinary incompetence.

I’m certainly open to evidence that I’m wrong—about the regime’s motives or even its incompetence. But absent that, this seems to be one of those times that the simplest explanation is the best.

US citizens living overseas could, potentially, have a harder time voting, yes. But they also could have a harder time sending a birthday card to Great Aunt Agnes, or a Christmas present to their parents. And this could result in higher costs for e-commerce companies, including ones shipping TO the USA. Time will tell if these are a problems or not, but, for now, there’s no evidence that the regime is intending to make life harder for US citizens living overseas, even though it could very well do so. The really sad part of all of this, though, is that saying the current regime doesn’t appear to be trying to make people’s lives harder intentionally is unusually high praise of them.

The photo at the top of this post is from a 2016 Instagram Post that I also shared in a blog post called, “I Voted, 2016 edition”. It’s my own photo. And my hand, for that matter.

No comments: