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Tester, Daines demand answers from Postmaster Gen. on clandestine box removals

Editors note: This story was updated on Friday afternoon after new details were revealed.

Montana’s two U.S. senators are demanding answers from the newly minted Postmaster General after learning that collection boxes have been removed from several Montana cities, and just months before the General Election.

With the presidential election just months away, Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines said collection boxes were removed from Missoula, Bozeman, Billings and Lewistown, and feared plans were in the works to remove boxes from other locations.

Once rumors, Tester confirmed the reports on Friday.

“These actions set my hair on fire and they have real life implications for folks in rural America and their ability to access critical postal services like paying their bills and voting in upcoming elections,” Tester said. “Postmaster General (Louis) DeJoy must immediately provide Montanans with an explanation for the actions of the USPS, or he can do it under oath before a Senate committee.”

Tester said the sudden and unexpected removal of postal boxes were occurring without transparency or any communication. In a letter to DeJoy, he said such actions would cause harm to those who rely on the USPS for the delivery of medicine and distribution of benefits.

But it could also throw another wrench into the November election, some fear. Gov. Steve Bullock has given Montana counties the option to hold an all-mail ballot as a public safety precaution around the coronavirus pandemic. Missoula County commissioners this week voted to hold an all-mail election.

The election is just months away and Trump’s re-election campaign has repeatedly made claims of massive mail-in voter fraud, but has offered no proof. A federal judge this week gave the campaign until the weekend to prove that fraud is taking place.

Trump also has criticized voting by mail and has threatened to cut funding for the Postal Service.

Daines on Friday said reports of collection boxes being removed or locked were concerning. He also sent a letter to DeJoy seeking answers.

“If so, that is unacceptable, and I request additional information about why these boxes have already been removed, any future plans the USPS has for other collection boxes in the state, and if these changes will affect delivery times,” Daines stated in his letter.

News reports have surfaced in several states this week of US Postal Service workers hauling away mailboxes in flatbed trucks, or closing convenient drop off locations. The actions have caused concern in states gearing up for mail-in voting for the presidential election in November.

Tester has asked DeJoy to answer several questions by next Tuesday, including whether the Postal Service has removed collection boxes from Montana and if so, where. He also asked if DeJoy or others have issued orders to remove any boxes.

“How have you communicated with the pubic and local elected officials to ensure there would not be a disruption in the critical service the USPS provides to these communities?” Tester asked. “If the USPS has recently or is planning to remove collection boxes, what is the rationale being used?”

According to the Oregonian, a Postal Service spokesperson said declining mail volume prompted the Postal Service to remove “duplicate” boxes from areas that have multiple collection boxes.