USPS Ordered to Restore Sorting Machines for Election Mail
An bin holds mail-in ballots before they are prepared and scanned by the Montgomery County Board of Elections at a recreation center in Germantown, Maryland, U.S. (Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg)

USPS Ordered to Restore Sorting Machines for Election Mail

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A federal judge ordered the U.S. Postal Service to restore high-speed mail-sorting machines at any facilities that are unable to process first-class election mail quickly enough -- a major concern for states as the postal agency continues to struggle with service performance.

The order late Thursday by U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan in Washington is a win for a group of states that successfully sued USPS and President Donald Trump to halt a series of operational changes that hobbled the postal service just before an expected surge in use of mail-in ballots during the pandemic.

At struggling facilities, “available processing equipment will be restored to service to ensure that USPS can comply with its prior policy of delivering election mail” at first-class standards, the judge said.

The order was intended to clarify a Sept. 27 injunction targeting the operational changes instituted by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a major Trump donor who took the helm at USPS earlier this year. The postal service had asked the judge to clarify the scope of the order, arguing that the massive sorting machines DeJoy ordered taken apart over the summer couldn’t be put together again.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, who led a group of states in the lawsuit -- one of three such multi-state cases -- said in a tweet Thursday that USPS had failed to comply with this injunction.

USPS spokeswoman Martha Johnson said in an emailed statement that the postal service is complying with the court’s order.

“With a record number of people across the country voting by mail, the U.S. Postal Service’s number one priority between now and the November election is the secure, timely delivery of the nation’s election mail and our primary focus is in taking the actions needed to achieve that goal,” Johnson said.

Sullivan acknowledged the USPS concern that reassembling all such machines “may not be possible,” but ordered it done anyway at any facility that can’t keep up with the delivery of election mail, such as mail ballots, as first-class mail.

In a Pennsylvania case, a judge on Wednesday denied the state’s request to appoint an independent monitor to ensure the USPS followed through on its court-ordered commitments.

DeJoy’s changes included bans on employee overtime and late delivery trips that helped ensured delivery of millions of pieces of mail, as well as a policy to disassemble hundreds of mail-sorting machines, a change that particularly hit high-density urban areas that lean Democratic. One federal judge said it was “easy to conclude” that the changes were intended to disrupt and challenge the legitimacy of the Nov. 3 election.

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