Federal judge invokes 'extraordinary measures' to ensure mail-in ballots get delivered on time

Federal judge invokes 'extraordinary measures' to ensure mail-in ballots get delivered on time
Airman 1st Class Austin Wells, 100th Force Support Squadron military postal clerk, shelves a basket of mail inside the post office at RAF Mildenhall, England, May 19, 2020. The post office has extended holding times for packages due to COVID-19. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron) (Portions of this photo have been blurred for privacy purposes)

A federal judge on Friday ordered the United States Postal Service to take "extraordinary measures" at numerous processing centers in order to guarantee the timely delivery of millions of ballots by Election Day.

Reuters reports U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan said the order is in line with the USPS's October 20 "Extraordinary Measures Memorandum," (pdf) which states that "the proper handling and timely delivery of election mail... remains our number one priority."

USPS said the measures include, but are not limited to, "expedited handling, extra deliveries, and special pickups... to collect blank ballots entered by election officials to voters, or completed ballots returned by voters."

Affected locations include: Alabama; Alaska; Atlanta; central Pennsylvania; Colorado; Detroit; Fort Worth, Texas; Indiana; Louisiana; the mid-Carolinas; Mississippi; northern New England; Oklahoma; South Carolina; and other areas.

Sullivan said the measures apply to places where election mail processing scores did not exceed 90% for at least two days between October 26 and 28.

The Washington Post reports Sullivan also ordered the Postal Service to provide written explanation for each district where less than 80% of ballots are delivered on time each day. Attorneys from the U.S. Department of Justice blamed staffing issues and increased mail volume for such delays.

"At the same time that staffing unavailability has become a factor, there has been an increase volume in package and market dominant products," John Robinson, a DOJ lawyer, said in a legal filing reported by the Post.

Friday's order comes three days after Sullivan directed postal employees to complete as many late trips as needed to boost USPS's on-time delivery rate. Earlier this month, the judge—who is an appointee of President Bill Clinton—ruled that it is in the public interest to block USPS policies that have caused widespread delays since July.

Earlier this week, USPS urged voters to mail their ballots by October 27 in order to ensure on-time arrival and counting eligibility by Election Day, which is November 3.

While postal workers have tried to keep up with deliveries, the sheer number of early ballots cast, as well as what critics call politically motivated delays caused by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, have resulted in major issues affecting delivery times.

Last week, the USPS inspector general issued a report (pdf) that found changes made by DeJoy—including reducing extra delivery trips and changes in the way mail is sorted—"negatively impacted the quality and timeliness of mail delivery."

On Thursday, USPS said it had delivered over 122 million ballots, both blank and completed, as Tuesday's election fast approaches. Early voting has occurred at a record pace in 2020—according to the U.S. Elections Project at the University of Florida, more than 85 million Americans have already cast their ballots.

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

Close
alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.