WASHINGTON (CN) — In a bid to ensure no ballot left behind, a federal judge ordered the U.S. Postal Service on Tuesday to sweep its facilities for election mail.
Carried out by the Inspector General’s Office for USPS, the process is known as an “all clear.” Postal inspectors must go over the facilities where election mail is processing Tuesday afternoon “to ensure that no ballots have been held up and that any identified ballots are immediately sent out for delivery,” U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan wrote in a lengthy docket entry this morning.
Sullivan’s order applies to a dozen USPS districts with low processing scores for ballots delivered on Monday, including in battleground states like Florida, Georgia and Pennsylvania.
Early voting neared 100 million on Monday, with tens of millions of mail-in ballots cast in an election expected to have record-breaking turnout.
Emphasizing his sensitivity to imposing any unreasonable burden on postal officials, the judge called his order a simple one in a videoconference hearing Tuesday.
“Put it on me,” the judge said, after the Justice Department raised concern that certifying the sweeps may take time away from already ongoing efforts to safeguard the election.
With the election now ongoing, NAACP attorney Samuel Spital said Tuesday morning that he is troubled by these hotspot districts with low ballot processing rates.
Covington Burling attorney Shankar Duraiswamy, representing Vote Forward, said the parties suing USPS were particularly concerned about states where Election Day is the final day for ballots to be counted.
“Something has to be done today to make sure no ballots are caught in the system,” Duraiswamy said.
Sullivan has kept a close eye on the Postal Service in the weeks leading up to Election Day, holding daily hearings and reviewing data on ballot processing. He plans to meet again on Wednesday by videoconference with the Justice Department and plaintiffs in several consolidated lawsuits.
After the NAACP argued new USPS policies prohibited “late trips” and “extra trips” for postal workers and disenfranchised voters of color, the judge issued an injunction blocking any changes to postal operations ahead of Nov. 3.
He followed up with an order last week for USPS carriers to undertake as many late and extra trips necessary to increase on-time election mail deliveries.
“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,” the judge wrote on Oct. 27. “Any prior communication that is inconsistent with this instruction should be disregarded.”
A Clinton appointee, Sullivan left room on Tuesday for the agency to certify “in the most efficient manner available, that sweeps were conducted and that no ballots were left behind” by 4:30 p.m.
Postal inspectors who carry out the facility checks are not required under the order to provide the certification to the court, a task the government argued could disrupt their Election Day duties.
“To be clear, the inspectors themselves need not provide any certifications to the court,” Sullivan wrote, indicating the certification will likely be composed by the Justice Department.
The government shared in Tuesday's hearing that OIG inspectors are already on site at 27 processing centers across the country on Tuesday. Sullivan further ordered the government to provide a list identifying those locations where inspectors have been on watch since Oct. 19.
The districts under Tuesday’s order are Central Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Detroit, Colorado/Wyoming, Atlanta, Houston, Alabama, Northern New England, Greater South Carolina, South Florida, Lakeland and Arizona.
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