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Federal judge temporarily blocks USPS policy changes nationwide

Posted September 17, 2020 4:44 p.m. EDT
Updated September 17, 2020 9:47 p.m. EDT

Federal judge temporarily blocks USPS policy changes nationwide

— A federal judge issued a historic decision to temporarily block the US Postal Service and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy from changing a wide swath of USPS policies or protocols ahead of November's presidential election.

The opinion from Judge Stanley Bastian in Eastern Washington's US District Court enjoin Trump administration postal policies as harmful to voters' ability to cast ballots this November and deliberately suppressive to voters. It places the judge at the center of a political furor in which the court steps into the extraordinary position of stopping the entire USPS from making any changes which may affect the efficient mail delivery nationwide.

"Although not necessarily apparent on the surface, at the heart of DeJoy's and the Postal Service's actions is voter disenfranchisement," Bastian wrote. "This is evident in President Trump's highly partisan words and tweets, the actual impact of the changes on primary elections that resulted in uncounted ballots, and recent attempts and lawsuits by the Republican National Committee and President Trump's campaign to stop the States' efforts to bypass the Postal Service by utilizing ballot drop boxes, as well as the timing of the changes.

"It is easy to conclude that the recent Postal Services' changes is an intentional effort on the part of the current Administration to disrupt and challenge the legitimacy of upcoming local, state, and federal elections, especially given that 72% of the ... high speed mail sorting machines that were decommissioned were located in counties where Hillary Clinton received the most votes in 2016."

The USPS must now undo all changes made in the last few months, including the only one DeJoy has taken ownership of: significantly restricting late and extra trips, according to the decision.

The decision mandates that all election mail, regardless of postage, must be treated as first-class mail. It also states that USPS must notify the court of all requests -- prior, current or future -- to reconnect mail sorting machines within three days of Thursday's order or within three days of a future request.

"If any post office, distribution center, or other postal facility will be unable to process election mail for the November 2020 election in accordance with First Class delivery standards because of the Postal Service's recent removal and decommissioning of equipment, such equipment will be replaced, reassembled, or reconnected to ensure that the Postal Service can comply with its prior policy delivering election mail in accordance with First Class delivery standards," the decision states.

Bastian, in an earlier court hearing, added that President Donald Trump and DeJoy "are involved in a politically motivated attack on the efficiency of the Postal Service."

A coalition of Democratic state attorneys general sued USPS last month, claiming that DeJoy broke the law when he implemented policy changes that disrupted mail delivery across the country. USPS rejects these claims and DeJoy says he isn't trying to sabotage the election.

The policy changes at the Postal Service created "a substantial possibility" that "voters may be disenfranchised," Bastian said during the hearing, adding that "harm has already taken place."

"Substantial evidence has been presented that these transformative changes have been done by the Postal Service which has made mail delivery slower and less efficient," Bastian said.

The plaintiffs submitted more than 70 public remarks, including tweets the President has made in attacking mail-in voting.

At one point during the proceedings, the judge said it was "ironical" that the US attorneys saw no issues with going to polls to vote during the global coronavirus pandemic, but wanted to argue the case via videoconference.

"While we are exploring our legal options, there should be no doubt that the Postal Service is ready and committed to handle whatever volume of election mail it receives. Our number one priority is to deliver election mail on time," USPS spokesperson Dave Partenheimer said.

Lee Moak, chair of the Election Mail Committee of the Postal Service's Board of Governors, added, "Any suggestion that there is a politically motivated attack on the efficiency of the Postal Service is completely and utterly without merit."

The ruling comes as some Americans are beginning to receive their mail-in ballots and cast their votes for this November's presidential election.

Some of the Democratic state officials who brought the lawsuit cheered the judge's decision.

"Huge victory to protect the Postal Service -- Washington state federal judge blocks unlawful USPS policies delaying mail and impacting elections," tweeted Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who led the coalition of Democratic attorneys general.

Plaintiffs claim DeJoy enforced "Leave Mail Behind" policy

Since his arrival at the USPS in June, DeJoy oversaw the implementation of only one major initiative: restricting late and extra trips that mail trucks take.

Although the USPS has admitted it contributed mail delays, DeJoy kept it in effect, even after he suspended changes ahead of November's election in light of mounting criticism. Postal employees and union officials have repeatedly told CNN because of DeJoy's new policy, mail was delayed after it was left behind on loading docks.

The state attorneys general also said that, "DeJoy has abandoned the Postal Service's longstanding commitment to treat all Election Mail under First Class delivery standards." Some election mail sent by election officials is sent by marketing mail, which has a slower delivery time.

In years past, USPS had -- as a courtesy -- treated all election mail as first class mail.

US attorneys repeatedly argued that there had not been substantial changes at USPS.

But Bastian said that he was "personally warned" by the USPS that his and his family's ballots may be delayed through the informative mailer the postal service sent out regarding elections.

"If nothing has changed, why did I get a warning from the Postal Service yesterday for my own personal ballot?" he asked.

This story has been updated with additional details from the hearing and USPS comment.

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