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Citing Widespread Election-Related Delays, Federal Judge Invokes 'Extraordinary Measures' to Ensure On-Time Delivery, Counting of Ballots

Large areas of the country will be subjected to the measures, which include expedited handling, extra deliveries, and special pickups. 

Record early voting—much of it by mail—has caused serious delays in the United States Postal Service. (Photo: Jason Redmond/AFP/Getty Images)

Mail-in ballots pile up in a Renton, Washington post office. (Photo: Jason Redmond/AFP/Getty Images)

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.

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"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. 

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