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USPS Ordered to Reassemble Sorting Machines for Election Mail After States Sue

The order’s a win for those concerned about election mail capacity, but many machines may not be able to be reassembled.

A tote of mail is scanned as it travels along a conveyor belt on December 18, 2014, at the USPS sorting facility in Scarborough, Maine.

A federal judge has ordered the United States Postal Service (USPS) to restore previously decommissioned high-speed mail sorting machines at offices that can’t process election mail fast enough ahead of the upcoming presidential election. The order is the result of a lawsuit filed by New York state in late August.

In the order, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan wrote that, if a post office or distribution center is unable to process election mail, “available processing equipment will be restored to service to ensure that USPS can comply with its prior policy of delivering Election Mail in accordance with First Class delivery standards.” The order is a clarification of an injunction issued late last month that barred changes to service implemented by Postmaster Louis DeJoy.

The USPS did not follow that injunction, said New York Attorney General Letitia James, who filed the lawsuit. “For a month now, the Trump Administration has made excuse after excuse to avoid compliance with a court order, all in an effort to further undermine USPS operations and impede voters wishing to vote by mail in the November elections,” James said in a statement.

When James filed the lawsuit against President Donald Trump, USPS and DeJoy, she said in a statement that “this USPS slowdown is nothing more than a voter suppression tactic.… We will do everything in our power to stop the president’s power grab and ensure every eligible voter has the opportunity to cast a ballot come November.” Hawaii, New Jersey, New York City, and the city and county of San Francisco were also part of the suit. For months, Trump has been attempting to cut and discredit USPS in order to help his election bid.

However, the new order may do little help to quell fears about the machine disassembly. After an initial slate of lawsuits against DeJoy and the Postal Service in August — at least three have been filed — DeJoy promised to pause the changes to service until after the election. But, despite his promise, sorting machines were still being dismantled, and their parts were tossed in the trash.

The USPS began dismantling mail sorting machines under DeJoy’s orders as early as July. At around the same time, the Postal Service warned 46 states that it could not guarantee that all mail-in ballots would be able to arrive in time to be counted for the election, despite DeJoy’s claims that the USPS has “ample capacity” to handle election mail. According to a grievance filed by the American Postal Workers Union, the USPS was slated to decommission about 10 percent of its mail sorting machines — 671 of them.

DeJoy’s promise to stop changes came in mid-August, but the grievance showed that 618 of them were scheduled to have already been dismantled by August 1.

Though this order will force the Postal Service to recommission the machines in certain offices, many of the machines that were dismantled may not be able to be reassembled — which Sullivan has acknowledged. Machines were not just turned off — they were completely disassembled and their parts either used to rehabilitate other machines or scrapped, DeJoy said. There are reports of one machine being reassembled in Maine, but not much else is known about the total number of machines that may be eligible for recommissioning.

The court has ordered USPS to provide an update on the recommissioning by Friday at 5 pm.

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