USPS Still Not Sorting Election Mail Fast Enough, States Say

The U.S. Postal Service still isn’t processing election mail on time, even after being ordered by judges to halt disruptive changes like banning worker overtime and late delivery trips, Pennsylvania’s attorney general told a judge.

USPS data show the postal agency’s performance levels are down more than 5% from where they were before the changes took effect in July and “continue to be lower than at any point in 2020,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a federal court filing Monday in Philadelphia.

“Despite being subject to multiple injunctions, defendants have not improved their service performance,” said Shapiro, who has asked U.S. District Judge Gerald Austin McHugh to appoint an independent monitor to ensure the USPS abides by court orders.

Democrats have accused Postmaster General Louis DeJoy of undermining the USPS just as the nation is expecting a record surge in use of mail-in ballots because of the coronavirus pandemic. Several judges have issued injunctions, including one who said it was “easy to conclude” that DeJoy’s changes were intended to disrupt and challenge the legitimacy of the Nov. 3 election.

The agency’s inspector general, in a report released Tuesday, said Postal Service officials didn’t analyze service impacts of five dozen changes put in place to save costs, and the cumulative impact led to slower mail. The service quickened the pace of removing sorting equipment, and of mail drop boxes in some areas, according to the report distributed by lawmakers.

“These initiatives were implemented quickly and were communicated primarily orally, which resulted in confusion and inconsistent application across the country,” according to the report.

In a reply included in the report, Postal Board of Governors Chairman Robert Duncan said that the inspector general incorrectly conflated annual adjustments with DeJoy’s demand that trucks keep a tight schedule. The schedule changes caused service delays “that are being resolved,” Duncan said.

According to Shapiro, who’s leading one of three multistate suits, USPS compliance with rules about election-mail processing and daily delivery is supposed to be at 100%. But USPS data shows compliance is as low as 85% in one division and some units aren’t reporting figures at all, he said.

Shapiro also said that late and extra trips by USPS mail carriers, which are supposed to be reinstated under the injunction, have barely nudged up and are nowhere near pre-July levels, suggesting more could be done to improve performance.

The USPS responded in a letter to the court on Tuesday that it was complying with the court order.

“The preliminary injunction does not speak to service performance levels, or require USPS to guarantee a certain aggregate number of late or extra trips, but rather requires USPS to maintain and convey certain specific operational policies,” the postal agency said.

The USPS also said that failures by some units to report data were isolated, and that service is improving in some regions. The lagging performance doesn’t justify appointing a monitor, the agency said, adding that it needs to focus on delivering millions of ballots that are already being sent.

“USPS asks that it be allowed to perform its duty in this important period, rather than continuing to litigate unnecessary disputes before this court,” the postal agency said.

Battleground Delays

Delivery of First Class mail -- the type of service used for ballots -- continues to lag in some cities, including in battleground states Michigan and Pennsylvania. For instance, only around 80% of First Class mail was delivered on time in Philadelphia in early October, according to USPS data filed with the court. In Detroit, the figure was about 71%.

On-time delivery rates below 95% risk delaying ballots, former Deputy Postmaster General Ronald Stroman said at an Oct. 15 press conference.

“Once you start slipping below that, then given the volume of absentee ballots, you’re starting to look at a significant number of votes that may not be counted if they are sent too close to the election,” Stroman said.

Postal workers are coping with a deluge of campaign mail and ballots alongside the usual mail, said Trina Wynn, president of Local 152 of the American Postal Workers Union, in New Castle, Delaware.

“We are struggling,” Wynn said in an interview.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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