Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson this week filed a motion to immediately block damaging operational changes made to the U.S. Postal Service by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who is currently under investigation for potential conflicts of interest and alleged violations of campaign finance laws.
Ferguson's motion for preliminary injunction (pdf)—filed late Wednesday night in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington—seeks the following:
- Immediately stop the Postal Service's "leave mail behind" policy, where postal trucks are required to leave at specified times, regardless if there is mail still to be loaded;
- Require the Postal Service to continue its longstanding practice of treating all election mail as first class mail, regardless of the paid postage;
- Require the Postal Service to replace, reassemble, or reconnect any removed mail-sorting machines that are needed to ensure timely processing and delivery of election mail; and
- Require the Postal Service to abide by Postmaster General DeJoy's commitment to suspend the recent policy changes that have affected mail service until after the election.
Ferguson is at the forefront of a coalition of 14 states—including key battleground states like Michigan, Nevada, and Wisconsin—that filed a lawsuit (pdf) on August 18 asserting that DeJoy "unlawfully implemented drastic changes to mail service."
The postmaster general's operational modifications include "eliminating or reducing staff overtime, halting outgoing mail processing at state distribution centers and removing critical mail sorting equipment," all of which "threaten the timely delivery of mail to millions of Americans who rely on the Postal Service for everything from medical prescriptions to ballots," the Washington AG's office said in a Thursday statement.
Immediately after Ferguson filed the lawsuit in August, DeJoy "made public commitments that he would halt some—but not all—of" his recent policy changes. Wednesday's motion asks Judge Stanley A. Bastian to stop the changes nationwide.
"The Covid-19 pandemic has forced many Americans, especially seniors and other high-risk individuals, to rely increasingly on mail delivery services while they stay at home for their health," his office added. "In general, seniors rely heavily on the mail to receive essentials like medications, Social Security benefits and even groceries."
In addition, "the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, which provides broad healthcare services to veterans nationwide, fills about 80 percent of veteran prescriptions by mail," the office noted. "The VA processes about 120 million mail-order prescriptions per year—470,000 a day. The Postal Service makes daily prescription deliveries to 330,000 veterans across the country," many of whom are reporting much longer wait times.
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The dramatic mail delays that have taken place during DeJoy's tenure raise serious concerns about how his policy changes could impact voting by mail—a practice which President Donald Trump has baselessly and repeatedly attacked—in the upcoming general election.
According to the AG's office, voter fraud in Washington state—which has permitted elections to be conducted entirely by mail since 2005 and mandated the practice statewide in 2011—is practically nonexistent.
In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, record numbers of U.S. citizens are requesting absentee ballots.
In Wisconsin, where "around 2 million voters are expected to request an absentee ballot and vote by mail... the Postal Service shut down four sorting machines used at its distribution center in downtown Milwaukee" in June at the behest of the postmaster general, according to Ferguson. The USPS "planned to remove three more before DeJoy temporarily suspended the removal of sorting machines."
According to election officials in Wisconsin, election mail now takes "about a week to arrive to voters in Madison." Such delays increase the likelihood that mailed-in ballots will not reach their destinations before deadlines, threatening to "disenfranchise a large swath of voters, particularly those most vulnerable to Covid-19," the AG's office noted.
"With the national election less than two months away," Ferguson explained, "we are seeking a judicial order protecting this critical government service."
Bastian, the chief judge for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington, scheduled a hearing on Ferguson's motion for September 17—next Thursday.
Prior to that hearing, DeJoy's conduct and recent reforms will be subject to an examination of "how his continued leadership could jeopardize the Postal Service and the mail-in voting process for the 2020 election," the office of Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), the chairman of the Subcommittee on Government Operations, announced Friday.