By Nikhila Natarajan
The United States Postal Service mailbox with its signature blue and white logo, an inseparable fixture of the urban and rural American landscape, has emerged as the unlikely superstar of the 2020 US election.
Mail in ballots have shattered records for early voting, nudged the contest towards knife edge, angered a sitting US president, launched 300 lawsuits and offered citizens the comfort of an alternative method to vote during a raging pandemic that has killed more than 231,000 Americans and sickened more than 9 million in the homeland.
While the jury is out on whether Big Tech platforms Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were able to clamp down on election disinformation and scale the right stuff, the 101 of connectivity — snail mail — delivered in remarkable ways for the world’s richest country in what pundits are calling the “most consequential election of our lives”.
From tweeting at the TV, Trump switched to tweeting at the humble mailbox. There were multiple rants about mail voting, claiming without evidence that it is ripe for fraud and suggesting mail ballots may be “manipulated”.
“This is going to be a fraud like you’ve never seen,” Trump insisted. Americans dropped their rebuttals into verified USPS boxes. The envelopes piled up high from coast to coast, our jaws dropped to the floor.
Total early votes this year, before election day: 101,214,494, according to the University of Florida early vote statistics.
Last heard, the Democratic ticket of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris has received more than 71 million votes, the most in American history in more than a 100 years, a nod to the phenomenal influence of even the most frugal communications infrastructure in the lived world — paper, pen and a mailbox.
It’s not like the mailbox somehow became more vital in the weeks leading up to the election. Across rural America, where internet connectivity is patchy and when pharmacies are faraway, the postal service is how people get their medicines and their Amazon boxes.
This presidential election cycle took it all up a few notches. In real time, the US 2020 election transformed the idea of the mailbox and the value of steadfast, last mile services in our communities. The US Postal Service has managed to do a lot with very little.
No matter who wins the US 2020 election, the USPS mailbox will be part of every story that’s ever written on the Trump versus Biden battle. It’s both the pipeline and the tap and everything in between. It’s central to the confetti burst of Trump lawsuits in do or die battlegrounds Pennsylvania, Michigan and Georgia, it’s the stuff that makes up the red and blue splotches that colour the American political reconfiguration, it will decide if the first Indian and Black American woman ever on a presidential ticket makes it to the most powerful political office in the United States.
The outsize role of mail in ballots in the 2020 election is a promise kept to the American people, chiseled into the granite entrance of the New York City Post Office on 8th Avenue, inspired by a paragraph from ‘The Persian Wars’ by Herodotus: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”