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Federal Judge Orders USPS to Sweep Facilities for Ballots in Key Election States

The order came after the Postal Service reported delays in several battleground states.

Mail-in ballots sit in containers from the U.S. Postal Service waiting to be processed by election workers at the Salt Lake County election office in Salt Lake City, Utah, on October 29, 2020.

A federal judge ordered the United States Postal Service (USPS) on Tuesday to “sweep” its facilities for any remaining ballots to make sure that all ballots are delivered by election deadlines.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan in Washington, D.C., ordered that USPS staff must “ensure that no ballots have been held up and that any identified ballots are immediately sent out for delivery.” The order is effective in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Colorado, Wyoming, Georgia, Texas, Alabama, Arizona, Northern New England, South Carolina and Florida.

Of those places, only Texas and Pennsylvania will accept postmarked ballots that arrive after Tuesday. Sullivan ordered the sweep after the USPS reported that there were still delays in ballot delivery across the country, and the ballot extension in some states might be overturned.

This is one of Sullivan’s strictest orders thus far on the USPS. Sullivan has presided over several lawsuits regarding the USPS, having previously ordered the post office to notify its managers on the importance of delivering every ballot in key states on Sunday. Sullivan has also previously ordered the USPS to halt sweeping changes that were being implemented by Trump-appointed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and to reassemble mail sorting machines that were disassembled under DeJoy’s command.

On Sunday, Sullivan also ordered that the USPS adhere to “extraordinary measures” in order to ensure timely delivery of ballots, including accommodating special ballot dropoff lines at post offices; early, late and extra mail collection; and delivering ballots directly to election officials rather than bringing them to sorting facilities.

Over the course of the past months, timely ballot delivery has become a politicized concern as President Donald Trump slashed the USPS’s budget and installed Republican operative DeJoy with the intention to carry out further gutting of the post office. Trump admitted in August that his attacks on the USPS were done in order to make it harder to vote.

Trump has continually spread misinformation about mail-in voting; he’s done so over 100 times over the course of this year, according to The Washington Post. In the weeks leading up to Election Day, Trump has shifted his frustration to states extending their deadlines for accepting mail-in ballots. He has also made groundless allegations about the validity of ballots counted beyond November 3.

“I think the ruling in Pennsylvania was an unfortunate one … because I think we should know what happens on the night [of the election],” Trump said on Tuesday. Over the past weeks, Trump has said that votes shouldn’t be counted after election day, though no state ever reports its final results on election night even in a normal year without the additional burden of contending with a pandemic.

Though many of Trump’s remarks have been debunked and DeJoy’s changes have been halted by court order, it appears that the changes have had at least part of their intended effect. As the Washington Post reported Monday, “by nearly any measure, the Postal Service is struggling to return ballots to election officials on time” — and some districts are especially floundering. Many states are still not accepting ballots delivered after election day, so with delays reported just days ago, it’s very likely that at least some mail-in ballots won’t be counted.

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