Fact check: USPS collection box locks are used as security measures during large events
The U.S. Postal Service is facing record demand because of COVID-19 and the upcoming election. Does it have the funds to rise to the occasion? USA TODAY
The claim: Postal Service is using collection box locks to suppress voters
With Election Day fast approaching and COVID-19 keeping many Americans stuck at home, President Donald Trump has spent weeks casting doubt about the trustworthiness of mail-in ballots. At the same time, Trump donor and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy's operational cutbacks and financial interest in the Postal Service's private competitors are aggravating suspicions that the Postal Service is working to suppress mail-in voters in order to benefit Trump.
“What voter suppression looks like in the middle of a pandemic,” claims a viral meme We Make Michigan posted to Facebook on Aug. 24.
The meme shows an image of a Postal Service collection box with a red lock device. "THIS COLLECTION BOX HAS BEEN LOCKED DO NOT ATTEMPT TO OPEN OR USE," states a message on the lock.
We Make Michigan has not responded to USA TODAY's request for comment.
The Postal Service says locks are used temporarily for security concerns
In an email statement, Postal Service public relations manager Dave Partenheimer told USA TODAY the U.S. Postal Inspection Service uses locks to temporarily address security concerns.
The Postal Inspection Service is the law enforcement and security division responsible for the security of post office infrastructure and employees.
“The security part of the Postal Inspection Service’s mission means ensuring postal employees, customers, and over 32,000 postal facilities are safe from criminal attack,” states the division's website. “Our security specialists analyze risks at postal facilities and implement solutions to minimize risks to employees and facilities.”
One of those solutions is using collection box locks like the one pictured in the meme.
“In support of our mission to protect the U.S. Mail, Postal Inspectors often recommend security measures, like these temporary locking devices, during large gatherings such as parades, community events or protests that may draw large crowds near USPS collection boxes,” the email statement read. “These locks are used to secure collection boxes from misuse and are removed once the event is over or the security concern has passed.”
Partenheimer did not respond to USA TODAY's questions regarding any possible anticipated use of such locks ahead of Election Day in November, when greater than usual reliance on mail-in voting is expected.
Neither USA TODAY nor Postal Service could identify when and where the photo in the meme was taken. Social media posts have offered conflicting accounts of the photo’s origins, with some attributing it to Southfield, Michigan, and others claiming it’s from Seattle.
Postal Service has used collection box locks before
Business Insider Australia reported the same locks were used along New York City's Pride parade route in June 2016.
On July 19, 2016, the Postal Service announced some Philadelphia collection boxes would temporarily be locked while the city hosted the Democratic National Convention.
On July 5, 2018, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported the same locks were used in Brooklyn Heights to help prevent terrorist attacks during the Independence Day firework show.
The Postal Service has also removed boxes to address security threats. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks and anthrax attacks in 2001, the Postal Service removed more than 20,000 boxes.
“In these instances, if municipal, state, or other responsible officials informed local postal officials that they wanted boxes removed from in front of prominent buildings or other suspected potential targets, the Postal Service complied with those requests,” the Postal Service responded to an administrative complaint about box removals in 2002.
Postal Service uses similar locks to prevent theft
Images of similar mailbox locks in Burbank, California, circulated on social media in mid-August. The Associated Press and Snopes found claims that those mailbox locks were evidence of voter suppression to be false and mostly false, respectively.
Some similar locks prevent mail from being removed from the mailboxes, but still allow mail to be deposited.
“The use of collection box anti-theft locking devices, such as at the Burbank Post Office, have been in place since approximately 2016, and this device was developed as a mail theft deterrent,” Postal Service spokeswoman Evelina Ramirez told The Associated Press.
Los Angeles and Orange counties post office operations spokesperson Richard Maher said some locks were placed on collection boxes each day after the last pickup to prevent overnight theft and then removed in the morning.
“We do this where we have had incidents, or there is a problem where the box may be out in a not very well lit public place,” Maher told Snopes.
The Los Angeles Daily News reported the use of these mailbox locks in April 23, 2016.
Claims about collection box removal intensify suspicions
Meanwhile, other misinformation about mailbox removals are similarly fueling concerns about voter suppression.
Collection boxes are being removed, but it is not at the rate viral misinformation suggests. The Postal Service has been removing mailboxes to save money since the 1970s. Since 2010 the Postal Service has removed an average of 3,258 boxes per year, USA TODAY reported Aug. 31.
Postmaster general said ballots will be delivered on time
In an Aug. 18 statement, DeJoy announced the post office would suspend new policies that some felt threatened mail-in ballot delivery.
On Aug. 21, he assured voters and a Senate committee that the Postal Service was “fully capable and committed to delivering the nation’s election mail securely and on time.”
On Aug. 22, the U.S. House voted to provide $25 billion to aid the Postal Service’s efforts to postpone cutbacks until after the election.
Our rating: False
We rate the claim that the Postal Service is using collection box locks to suppress mail-in voters as FALSE, based on our research. The Postal Service has a long-documented history of temporarily using such locks to address security threats. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has testified before Congress that election mail will be delivered safely and on time.
Our fact-check sources:
- USA TODAY, Aug. 4, "Trump backtracks on his condemnation of mail-in voting, says Florida is an exception"
- USA TODAY, Aug. 13, "Fact check: New postmaster general invested in Postal Service competitors"
- United States Postal Inspection Service, "How We Do It"
- Bedelia Brown PhD Candidate's Aug. 17 tweet
- jvharris_1965's Aug. 16 tweet
- Business Insider Australia, June 28, 2016, "Here's one of the interesting safety precautions authorities took for NYC's Pride parade"
- United States Postal Service, July 19, 2016, "Some Postal collection boxes to be temporarily locked out; collection operations suspended during Democratic National Convention"
- Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 5, 2018, "Every mailbox in Brooklyn Heights was locked down Wednesday"
- Associated Press, Aug. 18, "Locks on post office drop boxes meant to deter theft"
- Snopes, Aug. 20,"Is USPS Locking Mailboxes To Undermine 2020 Election?"
- Los Angeles Daily News, Apr. 23, 2016, "Thieves raiding Valley mailboxes prompt Postal Service to take action"
- USA TODAY, Aug. 31, "USPS removes thousands of mailboxes each year; in 2020, mail-in ballots make it political"
- Postal Rate Commission, Dec. 20, 2002, "Answer of the United States Postal Service"
- USA TODAY, Aug. 17, "Fact check: Wisconsin mailbox photo is not tied to 'voter suppression'"
- USA TODAY, Aug. 21, "Postmaster: 'sacred duty' to deliver election mail"
- United States Postal Service, Aug. 18, "Postmaster General Louis DeJoy Statement"
- USA TODAY, Aug. 22, "House passes an additional $25 billion for Postal Service as Trump tweets opposition"
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