USPS Is Already Facing Legal Action Over DeJoy's Forthcoming Mail Slowdowns
Lawsuit stems from the Postal Service's performance during the election, which generally won good reviews in a new IG report released Tuesday.
Some advocacy groups are taking a proactive approach in their opposition to forthcoming U.S. Postal Service reforms, citing them as part of a lawsuit before they have even been formally announced.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy will soon propose sweeping changes to the operations of the U.S. Postal Service, which will include a slowdown in the delivery window for some mail. The reform measures, which the embattled DeJoy has said will merely reflect current realities on the ground, have already generated significant controversy and will likely be met with opposition from several corners of the mailing world.
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund has already amended its existing lawsuit originally brought to oppose changes announced before the 2020 election to incorporate the impending 10-year business plan. While USPS implemented several emergency measures to expedite ballot delivery in the run up to and immediate aftermath of the election, and was generally successful in delivering election mail in a timely fashion, the group is seeking to ensure future elections are protected as well.
The Postal Service failed to implement all of the court-mandated policies it faced prior to the election, the NAACP legal fund said in conjunction with consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, and on-time delivery for non-election mail has plummeted in recent months. As it relates to mail-in ballots, the organizations argued DeJoy’s forthcoming plan would lead to “slower mail delivery generally, [and] lengthening the service standard would increase the likelihood of ballots being delivered late in future elections.”
Absent a permanent injunction, the NAACP said it would have to divert resources in future elections toward ensuring its members’ votes are cast and received in time to be counted.
The USPS inspector general found in a report released on Tuesday that USPS performed better in the 2020 election than in 2018. While it said the Postal Service typically implements extraordinary measures in the run up to Election Day, the mailing agency—which faced a slew of court orders requiring it to take various measures to bolster election mail delivery—saw its on-time delivery of ballots jump from from 83% in 2018 to 94% last year. USPS increased its transportation trips by 35% from September to October and overtime by 30%. The agency delivered just 88% of non-election First-Class mail on time, which the IG said demonstrated the effectiveness of its efforts with regard to ballots. Postal workers made a concerted effort to pull ballots from the normal delivery process and instead hand deliver them to election boards, which helped to get them in on time even if they were not marked as such.
Voters sent out 28,000 ballots within four days of the election, which the IG said would not normally be enough time to guarantee their delivery in time to be counted. Its special measures allowed the Postal Service to deliver 94% of those by Election Day, the IG found. Of the less than 1,600 ballots delivered after Election Day, 99% were delivered on time according to USPS standards and arrived late due to voters returning them too late.
Perhaps lending credence to the lawsuit’s claims that USPS failed to follow court orders, the IG found compliance issues which election protocols in about 30% of random visits to USPS facilities in the weeks before Nov. 3. The IG credited postal management for immediately responding to the issues it raised in real time. The auditors faulted USPS, however, for failing to clearly communicate all its policy changes to all of its employees throughout its network. It also called on USPS to ensure more ballots are barcoded as such for better tracking.
“By not always following election mail processes and without quick and effective communication, the Postal Service risked delaying election mail,” the IG said.
In its lawsuit, the NAACP is asking that USPS policies in the run up to elections be made more explicit and that temporary measures instituted last year be made permanent. It did not ask for the judge on the case, Emmet Sullivan, to enjoin DeJoy’s not-yet-released business plan that will include slower delivery windows, but did ask for a permanent block on DeJoy’s reforms from last summer that limited extra and late mail transportation trips. That policy, by postal management’s own admission, led to widespread confusion, mail being left behind each day and, ultimately, significant delays so trucks could operate on a set schedule.
USPS has said it will continue to fight against the existing lawsuits, in which the Postal Service faced several initial defeats last year that remain in effect. A spokesman said on Tuesday USPS and DeJoy would continue to address “a lack of operational precision,” but will continue to comply with court orders.
Dave Partenheimer, the USPS spokesman, said DeJoy’s plan will reflect years of neglected problems that threaten the functioning of the Postal Service and the postmaster general is hoping to have the freedom to make necessary changes.
“The Postal Service will adhere to all legal, statutory, and regulatory requirements as we implement the initiatives within the plan, including the remaining preliminary injunctions,” Partenheimer said. “That said, we continue to believe that the federal district courts lack jurisdiction over complaints related to postal services.”
He added that concerned parties should take their complaints to the Postal Regulatory Commission, which will be required to sign off on any significant nationwide service changes. Any court ruling that blocks postal management’s plan, Partenheimer said, would delay reform necessary to ensure improved service and financial health.
Allison Zieve, an attorney on the case with Public Citizen, said the groups updated their complaint to augment their claims with what took place during and after the election. The government will soon respond to its new complaint, followed by discovery and summary. Zieve is hoping for a final order from the judge that mirrors the preliminary injunction and institutes permanent measures for the Postal Service’s handling of ballots.
The IG made several recommendations to the Postal Service to ensure better performance in future elections, including boosting the barcoding of ballots for improved metrics, issuing clear guidance on expectations and policies that can be easily disseminated throughout the postal network, and improving oversight of daily “all clears” for better compliance.
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