A reliable postal system is an indication of a country’s democracy

I’ve found that you can determine how well a country functions by how well its postal system works. When I lived in Australia, I could count on letters getting back to Canada. When in Mexico, not so much.

image: Maple Ridge News

During the pandemic, especially, a functioning postal service is proving to be vital.

Even before the pandemic, the mail served as a great leveller in communication. Anyone, regardless of whether they have an internet connection or not, can communicate with anyone else. In a country as vast as Canada, that’s especially essential. For the price of a stamp, I can mail a letter to Tuktoyaktuk or across town in Kamloops.

Too often, a postal system is measured in business terms: whether it makes money or not. The value of a postal system is that it’s a public service, like public transit. A reliable mail system is a hallmark of a democratic country.

And the internet seems like an obvious replacement to mail until you realize just how insecure it is. Yes, bank statements can be sent electronically but so can fraudulent messages that dupe people out of money. The internet can’t be trusted for something as fundamental to a democracy as voting.

The postal system in the United States is under attack.  

There are mounting concerns in the U.S. over being able to vote by mail in the upcoming presidential election. President Donald Trump has continued his attacks on the United States Postal Service, stripping it of funding and blocking a nationwide mail-in voting in the next presidential election.

Mailboxes were ripped up in Democratic states just one day after Trump threatened to sabotage the USPS. Residents of Oregon and Montana witnessed mail boxes being removed. The same was happening in New York City.

USPS defended the move, saying that they were removing boxes that didn’t receive much mail and so they cut the cost of picking up mail in remote locations. Their defence is lame considering that the new Postmaster General, a major Trump ally, overhauled the Postal Service’s corporate structure and reassigned 33 top executives.

The Trump administration is not interested in a reliable postal service as a vehicle of democracy. He clearly cares not a whit about the needs of citizens with accessibility issues, disabled veterans, the elderly and those in rural communities who rely on USPS.

Meanwhile in Canada, elections are proceeding without any doubts about Canada Post being able to deliver mail-in ballots. I have requested a mail-in ballot for the upcoming election in B.C., -as have one-third of eligible voters concerned about the pandemic.

The internet doesn’t cut it when it comes to voting. Melanie Hull of Elections BC said:

 “While online voting would help ensure physical distancing, unfortunately there are still significant security concerns with this method of voting. It’s not something we recommend for a provincial election in B.C.”

The mail-in ballots in the upcoming elections in Canada and the U.S. will test our democratic institutions.  

After the pandemic is over, I’m curious to know whether a letter I send from the U.S. will make it home.