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Postal Service ordered to increase late trips for election mail

Erik Larson and Todd Shields
Bloomberg News

WASHINGTON — Postmaster General Louis DeJoy was ordered to immediately begin expanding mail delivery with extra trips and later deliveries after the U.S. Postal Service failed to improve performance less than a week before the election.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan in Washington late Tuesday granted an emergency request to enforce and monitor compliance with an earlier injunction he ordered. The ruling is a victory for civil rights groups and Democratic-led states that alleged in several lawsuits that the changes were undermining the election to the benefit of President Donald Trump.

“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,” Sullivan said. “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.”

On-time delivery of First Class mail dropped to 69.8% on Tuesday, down more than 6 percentage points from previous days, the USPS said in a court filing Wednesday.

Mail delivery has taken on a new urgency amid a surge in use of mail-in ballots during the pandemic and Republican efforts to block ballots from being counted after Election Day, even if they’re mailed on time. And conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court signaled this week that any ballots counted after Election Day could lead to “charges of a rigged election.”

Mail-in ballots are seen after being sorted Friday at the Chester County Voter Services office, in West Chester, Chester County.

Sullivan gave DeJoy until Thursday to distribute guidance to USPS leadership across the country with state-specific ballot-receipt deadlines and remind them of the need to “ensure that completed ballots reach the appropriate election official by the state’s designated deadline.”

Sullivan ordered DeJoy to issue a one-page notice advising leadership across the country to rescind July guidance limiting the use of late and extra delivery trips. The USPS has argued that it was complying with the earlier injunction and that data showing a sharp drop in the use of overtime and late trips had nothing to do with election mail. The judge said he wants to be updated daily by the USPS on its use of late trips.

USPS spokesman Dave Partenheimer said in a statement Wednesday that the Postal Service is complying with the court order and taking its legal obligations “very seriously.”

“We are deploying extraordinary measures — expedited handling, extra deliveries and special pickups — consistent with practices used in past elections to accelerate the delivery of ballots to its intended destination,” Partenheimer said.