MANHATTAN (CN) — A federal judge in New York held an evidentiary hearing on Wednesday concerning the U.S. Postal Service’s capacity to carry out the delivery of mail-in ballots for the upcoming November election in light of recent cost-cutting measures and the coronavirus.
Amid multiple lawsuits and growing concern that the Trump White House is out to undermine vote by mail in November’s election, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy announced last month that controversial cost-cutting changes to the U.S. Postal Service will be stalled until after the presidential election.
“We will deploy processes and procedures that advance any election mail, in some cases ahead of first-class mail,” DeJoy pledged during a videoconference hearing held by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in August.
The operational changes had included a sweeping push to cut overtime, freeze executive hiring and ban extra mail deliveries.
Despite the promises to prioritize election-related mail, the newly appointed postmaster general – a staunch Trump supporter and North Carolina businessman — also said he has no plans to restore mail sorting machines recently removed from postal facilities.
Postal data shows that the U.S. Postal Service’s on-time delivery declined between 8% and 10% across after the changes went into effect in July.
Over the course of a three-and-a-half hour teleconference Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero conducted an evidentiary hearing in connection with a class action motion for preliminary injunction that would require the Postal Service to take measures to ensure that all mail-in votes are delivered and that nothing fails through the cracks amidst the operation changes and the coronavirus.
Queens-based attorneys Remy Green and Ali Najmi — who won victories earlier this summer with separate orders from a Manhattan federal judge to hold New York’s canceled democratic primary elections and to recount late mail-in ballots from that June primary — brought the class action lawsuit against the Trump administration in federal court last month.
Green and Najmi asked the court to be allowed to question DeJoy but U.S. District Judge Marrero ruled that that testimony from the postmaster general “is not crucial at this point.”
The plaintiffs’ expert on the Postal Service, retired postmaster Mark Jamison, concluded in an affidavit that DeJoy had “chosen to sacrifice performance in favor of cost cutting despite the essential role that the Postal Service plays in delivering medicine and goods during the pandemic and will certainly play during the upcoming election when absentee and vote by mail will be essential to the health and safety of the American public.”
The former Webster, North Carolina postmaster testified on Wednesday that he believes the history of modern postal policy boils down to what he considers to be two opposing ideas.
“One is we treat the postal network as a national infrastructure that provides universal access and broad economic benefit and opportunity,” Jamison said. “The other idea is that it’s simply a delivery business measured by profit and loss.”
“During this time of pandemic and a critical election where more people than ever are going to have to vote by mail, the Postal Service is dealing with pandemic, but if we add that change in focus to cost reduction over performance, it becomes very concerning,” Jamison testified.
The Postal Service’s target rate for delivery performance is 96.5%, Jamison testified.
In 2019, the Postal Service achieved a rate of 92% for two-day delivery, but under Dejoy, the performance rate dropped to the high 70s to low 80s, he noted.
Robert Cintron, USPS vice president for logistics, testified on Wednesday that there had been a dip in service rates in July but insisted that the agency’s service performance has since rebounded to rates consistent with prior rates during the coronavirus.
Cintron noted that the service performance suffered “significant decrease when Covid first hit” but also admitted on cross examination by Remy Green that the July performance did correlate with the implementation of Dejoy’s operational changes.
Angela Curtis, vice president for retail and post office operations, also acknowledged the July service dip, attributing it to a “perfect storm” of factors.
“We experienced a spike in Covid in many locations after the July 4th holiday that coincided with this increased energy and focus on trips on time. Collectively, I believe that contributed to a different service,” Curtis testified Wednesday.
Justin Glass, director of the postal service’s election mail operations, testified that a surge of mail-in voting in November will not impact service.
“The Postal Service has plenty of capacity to handle election mail,” Glass said, calculating a scenario if 160 million Americans utilized vote by mail, receiving four pieces of mail to request and send their ballots, that total volume of mail — 640 million pieces — would be just a quarter of the 2.5 billion pieces of mail delivered during their peak week.
U.S. District Judge Marrero reserved his decision on the motion for preliminary injunction.