Judge Stops Postal Changes Slowing Mail09/18 06:06
A U.S. judge on Thursday blocked controversial Postal Service changes that
have slowed mail nationwide, calling them "a politically motivated attack on
the efficiency of the Postal Service" before the November election.
SEATTLE (AP) -- A U.S. judge on Thursday blocked controversial Postal
Service changes that have slowed mail nationwide, calling them "a politically
motivated attack on the efficiency of the Postal Service" before the November
Judge Stanley Bastian in Yakima, Washington, said he was issuing a
nationwide preliminary injunction sought by 14 states that sued the Trump
administration and the U.S. Postal Service.
The states challenged the Postal Service's so-called "leave behind" policy,
where trucks have been leaving postal facilities on time regardless of whether
there is more mail to load. They also sought to force the Postal Service to
treat election mail as first class mail.
The judge noted after a hearing that Trump had repeatedly attacked voting by
mail by making unfounded claims that it is rife with fraud. Many more voters
are expected to vote by mail this November because of the COVID-19 pandemic,
and the states have expressed concern that delays might result in voters not
receiving ballots or registration forms in time.
"The states have demonstrated the defendants are involved in a politically
motivated attack on the efficiency of the Postal Service," Bastian said.
He also said the changes created "a substantial possibility many voters will
Bastian, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, issued a written
order later Thursday that closely tracked the relief sought by the states. It
ordered the Postal Service to stop implementing the "leave behind" policy, to
treat all election mail as first class mail rather than as slower-moving
categories, to reinstall any mail processing machines needed to ensure the
prompt handling of election mail, and to inform its employees about the
requirements of his injunction.
Postal Service spokesman Dave Partenheimer said the organization is
reviewing its legal options, but "there should be no doubt that the Postal
Service is ready and committed to handle whatever volume of election mail it
Lee Moak, a member of the USPS Board of Governors, called the notion any
changes were politically motivated "completely and utterly without merit."
Following a national uproar, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a major donor
to President Donald Trump and the GOP, announced he was suspending some changes
--- including the removal of iconic blue mailboxes in many cities and the
decommissioning of mail processing machines.
But other changes remained in place, and the states --- including the
battlegrounds of Michigan, Wisconsin and Nevada --- asked the court to block
them. Led by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, the states said the
Postal Service made the changes without first bringing them to the Postal
Regulatory Commission for public comment and an advisory opinion, as required
by federal law. They also said the changes interfered with their constitutional
authority to administer their elections.
At the hearing, Justice Department attorney Joseph Borson sought to assure
the judge that the Postal Service would handle election mail promptly, noting
that a surge of ballots in the mail would pale in comparison to increases from,
say, holiday cards.
He also said slow-downs caused by the "leave behind" policy had gotten
better since it was first implemented, and that the Postal Service in reality
had made no changes with regard to how it classifies and processes election
mail. DeJoy has repeatedly insisted that processing election mail remains the
organization's top priority.
"There's been a lot of confusion in the briefing and in the press about what
the Postal Service has done," Borson said. "The states are accusing us of
making changes we have not in fact made."
Voters who are worried about their ballots being counted "can simply
promptly drop their ballots in the mail," he said, and states can help by
mailing registration form or absentee ballots early.
Borson also insisted that the states were required to bring their challenge
not in court, but before the Postal Regulatory Commission itself --- even
though by law the commission has 90 days to respond. Bastian rejected that
notion, saying there was no time for that with the election just seven weeks
The states conceded that mail delays have eased since the service cuts first
created a national uproar in July, but they said on-time deliveries remain well
below their prior levels, meaning millions of pieces of mail that would
otherwise arrive on-time no longer are.
They also noted some of the effects the changes had already wrought:
Michigan spent $2 million earlier this year on envelopes that met election mail
standards --- only to learn that the Postal Service wouldn't treat them as
first class mail. In Madison, Wisconsin, the number of ballots that weren't
counted because they arrived late for the August primary doubled from the
August 2018 primary.
Further, they cited research from information technology consultant Mynor
Urizar-Hunter, who helped start a website tracking the USPS changes, noting
that 78% of the machines slated for removal were in counties won by Democrat
Hillary Clinton in 2016.
The states suing are Washington, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nevada, Colorado,
Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island,
Vermont and Virginia --- all led by Democratic attorneys general.
Pennsylvania is leading a separate multistate lawsuit over the changes, and
New York and Montana have filed their own challenges.