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United States Postal Service (USPS) collection box seen on the street in Long Island City

Judge orders Post Office to backtrack on some changes

The Legal Defense and Education Fund, with Public Citizen on behalf of the NAACP recently struck a blow against the U.S. Postal Service over its “pivot” in mail delivery, which these organizations say can potentially lead to ballots not being delivered in time to count, thus, voter disenfranchisement.

The two organizations sued the USPS over the issue and a judge granted a motion for a preliminary injunction and enjoined the USPS from following the changes to transportation policy that it had announced in July.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy in that memo told employees to leave mail behind at distribution centers if it delayed letter carriers from completing their daily routes on time, according to The Washington Post. That immediately set off alarm bells for voting advocates.

Allison Zieve

“The judge agreed with us that USPS had implemented the changes without going through a procedure required by the statute,” which includes public input, said Allison Zieve, director of the Public Citizen Litigation Group.

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The USPS, in a statement, said the agency has every intention of delivering ballots in a timely manner.

The judge’s ruling should assure that, Zieve said.

“This lawsuit and others seek to ensure that USPS doesn’t allow politics to infect its decision-making and doesn’t slow down mail, including mailed ballots, on which Americans are so heavily relying on, especially in a presidential election year occurring during a pandemic,” she said. “The court orders in our case and other cases should help to ensure that ballots that are mailed on time arrive on time, so that every vote can be counted.”

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The case the suit challenges caused substantial delays in mail service across the nation, with entire towns in rural areas not receiving their mail on certain days and people in some cities going days or weeks without receiving mail, Zieve said. “The delays caused Americans to go without medicines and benefits and threatened to prevent eligible Americans from voting by mail. Our lawsuit on behalf of the NAACP and other similar lawsuits are crucial to protecting the right to vote in this election.”

The NAACP, the nation’s largest and oldest civil rights grassroots organization, and its members rely on the timely delivery of the mail for many functions, including mail-in voting, it said in a statement.

In the complaint, the organizations say mail-in voting is essential to ensure that Americans have the opportunity to vote safely, even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Prompt mail delivery is also especially important during the pandemic and the economic crisis it has caused, as Americans rely on the mail for medications, for benefits, to receive legal notices, and for many other important communications.”

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy

DeJoy was appointed as the new Postmaster General on May 6 and on July 10, he announced the major operational “pivot” imposing significant new restrictions on routes and timing, the complaint states.

“In so doing, he acknowledged that employees would ‘see mail left behind or on the workroom floor or docks’ as a result.” That led to sporadic mail delivery.

The USPS general counsel, in July, issued a letter to 46 states saying there would be a mismatch between their deadlines for mail-in voting and the USPS delivery times. The letter also stated that ballots would not be accorded first-class treatment, which has long been a standard.

The lawsuit asked the court to suspend the USPS changes “to restore prompt and reliable mail delivery, and to ensure that mail-in ballots are accorded priority status, as they have been in past years.”

Even while Congress has mandated that changes at the USPS get public comment in advance, that was not done this time, the suit states, making those changes unlawful. The court agreed.

“Congress has also mandated that: ‘In determining all policies for postal services, the Postal Service shall give the highest consideration to the requirement for the most expeditious collection, transportation, and delivery of important letter mail.’ The Postal Service’s reversal of its policy of according first-class service to ballots sent by marketing mail is inconsistent with that statutory mandate.”

In a statement to The Legal Examiner, USPS Manager of Public Relations Dave Partenheimer said, “I don’t have comment specifically about that, but wanted to let you know that delivering election mail is our number one priority, and we are 100% committed throughout the Postal Service to fulfilling our vital role in the nation’s electoral process by securely and timely delivering all ballots pursuant to our long-established processes and procedures.”

He said the latest service performance report presented to Congress recently shows service improvement for both first-class and marketing mail, which he attributes to the USPS focus on “the advancement of inventory, reduction in cycle times, and effective use of transportation.”

Partenheimer emphasized that as part of the postal service’s ongoing support for the upcoming election, DeJoy has instructed use of additional resources to satisfy the demand and ensure that all ballots are delivered in a timely manner. “Election mail entered as marketing mail should be advanced ahead of all other marketing mail and processed expeditiously to the extent feasible so that it is generally delivered in line with First-Class Mail delivery standards.”