Federal judge blocks Trump administration, Postal Service on alleged mail slowdown policies
Wisconsin, Minnesota and 12 other states win preliminary injunction
YAKIMA, Wash. (WKBT) — A U.S. judge blocked controversial Postal Service changes that have slowed mail nationwide, deriding them as “a politically motivated attack on the efficiency of the Postal Service” before the November election.
Judge Stanley Bastian in Yakima issued a nationwide preliminary injunction Thursday that 14 states, including Wisconsin and Minnesota, sought in a suit against the Trump administration and the Postal Service.
The states challenged the Postal Service’s so-called “leave-mail-behind” policy, in which trucks have been leaving postal facilities on time regardless of whether there is more mail to load.
The states also noted some of the negative effects the changes already have caused: In Madison, Wis., the number of ballots that weren’t counted because they arrived late for the August primary doubled from the August 2018 primary.
And Michigan spent $2 million on envelopes that met election mail standards — only to learn that the Postal Service wouldn’t treat them as first class mail.
The states also sought to force the Postal Service to treat election mail as first class mail.
The judge noted after a hearing that President Donald Trump habitually attacks mail-in voting with unfounded claims that it is fraught with fraud.
The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to propel increased mail voting, and the states fretted that delays might result in voters not receiving ballots or registration forms in time.
“The states have demonstrated the defendants are involved in a politically motivated attack on the efficiency of the Postal Service,” Bastian said.
The changes created “a substantial possibility many voters will be disenfranchised,” he said.
Bastian, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, issued a written order later Thursday that closely tracks the relief the states are seeking.
It ordered the Postal Service to stop implementing the “leave-behind” policy, to treat all election mail as first class instead of slower-moving categories and to reinstall any mail processing machines needed to ensure the prompt handling of election mail.
Postal Service spokesman Dave Partenheimer said the organization is reviewing legal options, but “there should be no doubt that the Postal Service is ready and committed to handle whatever volume of election mail it receives.”
Lee Moak, a member of the USPS Board of Governors, denounced the notion that any changes were politically motivated “completely and utterly without merit.”
Following a national uproar, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a major donor to Trump and the GOP, announced he was suspending some changes — including the removal of iconic blue mailboxes in many cities and the decommissioning of mail processing machines.
But other changes remained in place, and the states asked the court to block them.
The states contend that the Postal Service made the changes without taking them to the Postal Regulatory Commission for public comment and an advisory opinion, as federal law requires.
They also said the changes interfered with their constitutional authority to administer their elections.
At the hearing, Justice Department attorney Joseph Borson sought to assure the judge that the Postal Service would handle election mail promptly.
Slowdowns resulting from the “leave-behind” policy have eased, and the Postal Service actually had made no changes on how it classifies and processes election mail, Borson argued.
DeJoy insists that processing election mail remains the organization’s top priority.
“There’s been a lot of confusion in the briefing and in the press about what the Postal Service has done,” Borson said. “The states are accusing us of making changes we have not in fact made.”
Voters who are worried about their ballots being counted “can simply promptly drop their ballots in the mail,” he said.
States can help by mailing registration forms or absentee ballots early, he said.
Borson also insisted that the states are required to take their challenges to the Postal Regulatory Commission itself instead of to a court — even though the law allows the commission 90 days to respond.
Bastian rejected that notion, saying there was no time for that with the election just seven weeks away.
The states conceded that mail delays have eased since the service cuts first created a national uproar in July. But they said on-time deliveries remain well below previous levels, meaning millions of pieces of mail that used to arrive on time now are late.
Other states besides Wisconsin and Minnesota who are suing include Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Washington, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia. All of those state have Democratic attorneys general.
Pennsylvania is leading a separate multi-state lawsuit over the changes, and New York and Montana have filed their own challenges.
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