Judge Blocks Postal Service Changes That Slow Down Election Mail

Franklin County Board of Elections employees Seth Golding, left, and Braydon Galliers, center, transfer the chain of custody of blank absentee ballots to Wesley Foust, of the U.S. Postal Service, last Monday in Columbus, Ohio. The ballots would be mailed Tuesday, the first day of early voting for Ohio in the Nov. 3 election. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Just over three weeks out from Election Day, a federal judge in Washington became the latest to issue a nationwide injunction against policy shifts at the U.S. Postal Service that have caused mail delays since July.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, a Clinton appointee, entered a preliminary injunction Saturday in a suit that says Postmaster General Louis DeJoy blatantly attempted to disenfranchise voters of color by slowing the distribution of mail.

The NAACP brought the suit in August, saying voters of color have shown to be more harshly impacted by Covid-19 and more likely to use mail-in ballots for their health and safety as a result. An estimated 80 million citizens are expected to vote by mail this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Among key policy shifts at the Postal Service that the NAACP is contesting were prohibition of “late trips” and “extra trips” for postal workers. These changes were adopted without an advisory opinion from the Postal Regulatory Commission after DeJoy, a Republican donor and former business executive, was appointed to head the Postal Service in June. 

In its response brief, the Postal Service argued that the NAACP couldn’t show that the agency had acted “in excess of its delegated powers and contrary to a specific prohibition” by acting without an advisory opinion.

The court disagreed.

“While it is clear that Congress did not intend for the courts to micromanage the operations of the USPS, requiring the USPS to comply with the statutory requirement that it obtain an advisory opinion from the PRC and provide for notice and comment prior to implementing ‘a change in the nature of postal services which will generally affect service on a nationwide or substantially nationwide basis’ is not micro-managing; it is requiring the USPS to act within its statutory authority,” Sullivan wrote.

The Postal Service has “since clarified that late or extra trips are not ‘banned’; however, they acknowledge that they continue ‘at a reduced level’ that began in July 2020,” Sullivan’s 40-page ruling continues.

Concluding that he has jurisdiction to hear the case, Sullivan also disagreed that the dispute is one the Postal Regulatory Commission should handle.

“The PRC complaint process, even if it is available for their procedural challenge, would not redress its injury due to the timeframes involved,” Sullivan wrote, emphasizing that this case must be resolved before Election Day.

NAACP representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ruling, nor did representatives from the Justice Department.

Several other federal judges have sided with Democratic-run states and cities in similar cases, ordering the Postal Service to stop implementing its July policy changes. In September, federal judges in Washington state and Manhattan declared a nationwide injunctions concerning the changes in separate suits. A federal judge in Philadelphia did the same.

According to a report by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, 82% more election-related court cases have been filed this year compared to the last presidential election in 2016.

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