Georgia Runoffs Become Focus of USPS Ballot Delivery Suits

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A federal judge overseeing lawsuits challenging U.S. Postal Service operational changes agreed to shift the focus of the cases to ballot-delivery issues that could impact January runoffs in Georgia that will determine control of the U.S. Senate.

Lawyers for a civil rights group and a voting rights organization said at a hearing Monday that mail delays still pose a concern even if they won’t affect the presidential election, in which former Vice President Joe Biden was declared the winner on Saturday.

“I agree on the runoffs -- they’re so important and indeed could tip the balance of power in the Senate,” U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan said in Washington. “We want everyone’s votes to be counted.”

Sullivan said at a hearing last week that he’d seek sworn testimony from Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a longtime Republican donor accused of hobbling the USPS with “transformational” changes just before an expected record surge in the use of mail-in ballots. Thousands of ballots arrived late across the country last week, even as President Donald Trump continued to argue that ballots arriving after Election Day shouldn’t be counted.

Data submitted by the USPS showed ballots continue to arrive at election offices. That includes 170 ballots in central Pennsylvania that were mailed by at least the Sunday before the election and didn’t arrive until Saturday, a day too late to be counted in the crucial swing state, which was called for Biden.

“There are still some parts of the system that are not working the way they should,” Shankar Duraiswamy, a lawyer for Vote Forward, said at the hearing. “I can’t tell you these late deliveries changed the election, but that’s 170 people in Pennsylvania who went to the effort of casting a ballot in the election and now they’re not going to be counted.”

The focus on Georgia will include requiring the USPS to continue to provide data on delivery performance in the state and other evidence that plaintiffs may request.

USPS spokesman David Partenheimer said the Postal Service is confidant about its ability to successfully carry out its role in the runoff process Georgia.

“We are not aware of any issues regarding the delivery of election mail in Georgia, and we will continue to be in close contact with Georgia election officials to ensure a successful mail-in voting process for voters that choose to cast their vote by mail in the January run-off elections,” according to a statement.

DeJoy has denied any political motivation behind USPS operational changes, saying they were envisioned before he started at the agency and were being carried out to improve efficiency and get the postal service back on budget. He had no previous postal service experience when he took the helm this year.

Sullivan asked the USPS and the plaintiffs in three combined cases to discuss a possible agreement to eventually resolve the matter and set another hearing for Nov. 18. The cases are separate from three multi-state lawsuits pending before other judges.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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