Former Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill sounded the alarm Monday morning about alleged sabotage of the United States Postal Service in Washington, D.C. The problem was, she was using a picture of a locked mailbox in Seattle that she pulled from someone else’s social media account.
McCaskill, who is now an analyst for NBC News and MSNBC, shared the photo with a caption pushing a popular, but unproven theory Democrats have been repeating in recent weeks about President Donald Trump attempting to rig the 2020 election by handicapping the USPS.
“So now they are not hauling them off, just locking them up,” McCaskill wrote. “This one is in D.C.”
Other Twitter users quickly pointed out that the same photo had been posted a day earlier by a user who said it was a mailbox in Seattle.
McCaskill later apologized for the misinformation, but said the overall point she was making about the USPS still stood.
What’s going on here? Because of the conflict over the use of mail-in ballots for the upcoming election, a lot of people who never paid attention to mailboxes are now paying very close attention to mailboxes. Some of those people are noticing mailboxes being removed or locked, causing them to uncritically assume that the only explanation is Trump sabotaging the USPS so Democrats can’t vote by mail.
The USPS didn’t just begin locking or moving mailboxes in the lead-up to the election, however. Mailboxes are commonly locked for security purposes, and commonly moved from areas where they may not be getting used enough to justify their presence.
Residents of Burbank, California, recently raised concerns about locked mailboxes outside a local post office. Twitter posts about the situation caused “Burbank” to become a trending topic on Twitter, as photos of a row of locked mailboxes were widely shared.
KABC-TV looked into the situation, and found it was not as nefarious as some residents feared:
Eyewitness News reached out to the USPS for an explanation, and an employee said it’s common practice for mailboxes outside post offices to be locked on days they are closed in an effort to prevent vandalism.
We noticed the mailboxes can still be accessed from the other side.
The issue of the moment: The USPS issue will likely be around for a while, as states widen access to mail-in voting due to COVID-19, President Donald Trump continues to insist that universal mail-in voting will result in widespread fraud, and House Democrats prepare for congressional hearings about recent cost-cutting changes at USPS.