USPS Responds As Judge Brings Down The Hammer On Sluggish Ballot Delivery

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - OCTOBER 08: U.S. Postal Service letter carrier Dawnya Allred sorts mail, including yellow mail-in ballots for delivery to a residential neighborhood on October 08, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. Postal ... PHOENIX, ARIZONA - OCTOBER 08: U.S. Postal Service letter carrier Dawnya Allred sorts mail, including yellow mail-in ballots for delivery to a residential neighborhood on October 08, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. Postal authorities are expecting a record number of mail-in ballots this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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October 28, 2020 12:22 p.m.

Albeit grudgingly, the USPS coughed up statistics Wednesday ordered by a vexed federal judge about late deliveries and extra trips to collect mail as voters across the country worry that their ballots will not be delivered in time to be counted. 

Judge Emmet Sullivan of the District Court for the District of Columbia had already reversed mail collection limitations set by President Donald Trump’s Postmaster General Louis DeJoy amid outcry that the administration appeared to be trying to sabotage mailed ballots. On Tuesday, Sullivan granted the plaintiffs’ pleas to force the USPS to actually comply with that previous order. 

“There are less than two weeks until Election Day,” the plaintiffs wrote in their emergency motion. “Every day until then, hundreds of thousands of voters will be attempting to obtain and return their mail-in and absentee ballots. There is an urgent need for prompt action to remedy Defendants’ failure to comply with the Court’s injunction and to ensure that the unlawful July 2020 Policy Changes have not compromised the timely delivery of mail.”

The plaintiffs — four voters — claimed that the USPS has been dragging its feet in complying with the order, and that data through October 15 shows that the number of extra and late trips to ensure that all the mail gets collected has remained severely depressed from where it was before DeJoy imposed his changes.

Sullivan agreed, and issued an unusually detailed list of demands to force the USPS to comply with his order.

He ordered the USPS to send around directives to personnel to make abundantly clear that mail carriers are not to follow DeJoy’s instructions that would slow mail delivery. He ordered that those directives be sent out by 9 a.m. Wednesday morning, mere hours after his Tuesday night order. 

“USPS personnel are instructed to perform late and extra trips to the maximum extent necessary to increase on-time mail deliveries, particularly for Election Mail,” he wrote. “To be clear, late and extra trips should be performed to the same or greater degree than they were performed prior to July 2020 when doing so would increase on-time mail deliveries.” 

He also demanded that the USPS file statistics every day by 10 a.m. about extra and late trips taken during the preceding day “at the Nation, Area, and District level, including any available data that is specific to Election Mail,” as well as data concerning the percentage of on-time deliveries. On top of all that, Sullivan also ordered a daily afternoon teleconference status updates. 

The USPS met the Wednesday morning deadline and provided the requested statistics, though not without griping about it.

“As explained in Defendants’ opposition, this data is not appropriate for evaluating the Postal Service’s performance throughout a week, and weekly data is significantly more useful for evaluating the Postal Service’s performance across multiple weeks,” government lawyers wrote. “Accordingly, Defendants maintain that the data possesses little to no analytical value and should not be considered a reliable indicator of performance.”

The lawsuit against the administration was originally filed in August on behalf of individual voters who never received their ballots and either had to vote in person amid the pandemic, at risk to their health, or didn’t get to vote at all. 

Mail slowdowns have plagued voters trying to cast a ballot safely as COVID-19 cases spike in many parts of the country. In some places, like Michigan, top election officials have started warning people that it’s too late to vote by mail and be able to trust that the vote will be counted. 

“We are too close to Election Day, and the right to vote is too important, to rely on the Postal Service to deliver absentee ballots on time,” Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said in a press release on Tuesday.

Read the USPS’ response here:

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