Postmaster General Louis DeJoy was ordered by a court to halt operational changes at the U.S. Postal Service that triggered fear of a botched tally of mail-in ballots during the presidential election, two state attorneys general said.
A federal judge in Yakima, Washington, granted a nationwide injunction sought by several states that had accused DeJoy, a longtime Republican donor, of implementing changes that could delay delivery of time-sensitive absentee ballots and undermine confidence in election results in November, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said Thursday in a tweet. Voting by mail rather than in person is expected to surge because of the pandemic.
The ruling by U.S. District Court Chief Judge Stanley A. Bastian couldn’t immediately be confirmed in electronic court records.
DeJoy had previously assured Congress that he would halt some of the major changes he put in motion at the USPS until after the Nov. 3 election to “avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail.” But that was little comfort to Democratic state officials who said a court order was necessary to prevent further damage to USPS services and efficiency.
Connecticut Attorney General William Tong, whose state joined the Washington suit, said the judge made it clear in his ruling that the evidence shows the USPS is “being used as a tool of partisan politics.”
“He observed that the president has attacked the Postal Service and mail-in voting at least 70 times in the past month and that 72% of the high-speed sorting machine that were taken apart were in counties won by Hillary Clinton in 2016,” Tong said in a phone call. “He found it very persuasive that it was a deliberate and intentional attempt to undermine the Postal Service and to stop it from delivering mail in a timely manner.”
During a hearing on the case earlier Thursday, the judge interrupted a presentation by the states to point out that he’d personally received a postcard from the USPS saying there would likely be delays with mail-in voting.
“Can the court take judicial notice that I’m personally being warned by the defendant that my ballots may be delayed, my family’s ballots may be delayed,” Bastian said.
In a call with state election officials Thursday, DeJoy said delivering ballots “is the organization’s top priority between now and Election Day, and that the Postal Service is ready, willing, and able to handle the nation’s election mail for those who decide to utilize the mail to vote,” according to a USPS statement.
David Partenheimer, a U.S. Postal Service spokesman, declined to comment on the development in Washington state.
The decision comes as state election officials continue to urge voters to request absentee ballots as soon as possible in light of reports of widespread USPS operational delays. Democrats and Republicans are also battling in courts across the U.S. over deadlines for accepting mail-in ballots, with some arguing the USPS delays justify extending deadlines to several days after Election Day.
The states allege that DeJoy’s changes, including removal of mail-sorting machines and mailboxes, were made without proper regulatory approval. They also suggest the changes were curiously timed during a pandemic that is expected to lead to a record number of mailed ballots.
The lawsuit -- one of three multistate cases against DeJoy and the USPS -- includes allegations that the changes could ultimately benefit President Donald Trump by undermining a voting method that Trump has claimed, without evidence, will lead to a massive fraud and a stolen election. DeJoy, who started the job in May, has denied implementing any changes to help Trump.
Several Democratic attorneys general from the states have used tough language to describe the USPS changes, saying they amounted to voter suppression designed to help Trump.
“These authoritarian actions are not only jeopardizing our democracy and fundamental right to vote, but the immediate health and financial well-being of Americans across the nation,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said when her suit was filed.
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