Citing ‘customer concerns,’ Postal Service says it will halt mailbox removals

One Democrat called it a form of ‘voter suppression’

After reports surfaced in the past week of postal workers removing those iconic blue mail collection boxes from street corners in multiple states, the U.S. Postal Service said it will halt further removals for 90 days, citing "recent customer concerns."

Local news outlets in places from Montana to Oregon and New York have reported on mailboxes being "hauled away in flatbed trucks" and "seen discarded behind a post office" in recent days.

On Sunday, the Postal Service said the removals were in keeping with "routine" efforts to "identify redundant/seldom used collection boxes."

"This process is one of the many ways the Postal Services makes adjustments to our infrastructure to match our resources to declining mail volumes," said Postal Service spokeswoman Kimberly Frum.

But against the backdrop of heightened scrutiny of the agency and its controversial Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, those reports garnered attention from several lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, characterized the removals as part of a broader effort by President Donald Trump to "sabotage our elections," and referred to the removals as "voter suppression." Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., called the removals a "harebrained scheme that would have cut off Montanans' access to critical postal services like paying their bills and voting in upcoming elections."

As a result, Frum said, "the Postal Service will postpone removing boxes for a period of 90 days while we evaluate our customers concerns."

Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., requested DeJoy detail how the removal of the collection boxes may impact mail delivery.

"I am writing to you after reports of reductions in mail collections boxes in several Montana cities. These reports mention Billings, Missoula, Bozeman, and Lewistown. I am concerned at the potential negative impact these cuts will have on mail delivery," Gianforte wrote in a letter to DeJoy. "I ask that you provide additional data on how removal of collection boxes in Montana will impact delivery times, details about the process and criteria for determining how changes to delivery are being made, and information about other potential changes that alter mail delivery for Montanans."

"While I appreciate attempts to improve efficiency, it is critical that the USPS not delay mail delivery," Gianforte wrote.

With more Americans expected to vote by mail in the upcoming election than ever before, Democrats have raised issue with a series of cost-cutting reforms enacted by Dejoy, a longtime Republican financier and Trump donor who was appointed in May.

Critics say those measures have slowed mail service, prompting questions about whether it is part of a concerted effort to undermine absentee voting -- a platform the president has repeatedly, and without evidence, said would lead to election fraud.

House Democrats on Sunday invited DeJoy to testify before Congress on Aug. 24.

"Your testimony is particularly urgent given the troubling influx of reports of widespread delays at postal facilities across the country—as well as President Trump's explicit admission last week that he has been blocking critical coronavirus funding for the Postal Service in order to impair mail-in voting efforts for the upcoming elections in November," wrote Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., the chairwoman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

This report was featured in the Monday, Aug. 17, 2020, episode of “Start Here,” ABC News’ daily news podcast.

"Start Here" offers a straightforward look at the day's top stories in 20 minutes. Listen for free every weekday on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, the ABC News app or wherever you get your podcasts.

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