Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and Governor Kate Brown Announce Major Victory for Americans, Fair Elections, and Democracy as Federal Judge Blocks Unlawful Postal Service Policies Delaying Mail

September 18, 2020
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A federal judge in Yakima, Wash. has granted Attorney General Rosenblum’s request for a nationwide injunction forcing the U.S. Postal Service to immediately halt and reverse drastic operational changes to mail sorting and delivery ahead of the November election.

In his order granting the injunction Thursday, Chief United States District Judge Stanley A. Bastian wrote that “The Court finds that a nationwide injunction is appropriate in this case. Indeed, if there ever were a mandate for the need of a nationwide injunction, it is in this case.”

Judge Bastian’s order requires that the USPS

  • Immediately stop changes implemented in July 2020, including its “leave mail behind” policy, where postal trucks are required to leave at specified times, regardless if there is mail still to be loaded
  • Continue its longstanding practice of treating all election mail as First Class mail, regardless of the paid postage
  • Notify the Court of any instances in which the USPS denied or failed to respond to requests from post offices or distribution centers to reconnect or replace any decommissioned mail-sorting machines needed to ensure timely First Class delivery of election mail
  • Abide by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s public commitment to suspend the recent policy changes that have affected mail service until after the election

“It was alarming to observe the removal and carting away of mail boxes and sorting machines just ahead of a major national election – especially when more Americans will vote by mail than ever before,” said Attorney General Rosenblum. “Thankfully, the judge in our case agreed that that was just wrong – and politically motivated, to boot. All registered voters need to know they can rely on the USPS to deliver their ballot by Election Day. Hopefully now they can!”

In his opinion, Judge Bastian wrote, “Although not necessarily apparent on the surface, at the heart of DeJoy’s and the Postal Service’s actions is voter disenfranchisement. This is evident in President Trump’s highly partisan words and tweets, the actual impact of changes on primary elections that resulted in uncounted ballots, and recent attempts and lawsuits by the Republican National Committee and President Trump’s campaign to stop the States’ effort to bypass the Postal Service by utilizing ballot drop boxes, as well as the timing of the changes.”

Governor Kate Brown said mail disruptions hurt all Americans.

“Slowing critical mail service during a pandemic, when more Americans than ever rely on the U.S. Postal Service, impacts the delivery of essential prescriptions, unemployment and stimulus checks, cards to loved ones, vote-by-mail ballots, and so much more” said Governor Kate Brown. “We must support the USPS. Oregonians, like all Americans, depend on it.”

Oregonians can register to vote through October 13.

Case background

On August 18, Attorney General Rosenblum joined a coalition of 14 states to file a lawsuit over the changes to the Postal Service. The changes, including eliminating or reducing staff overtime, halting outgoing mail processing at state distribution centers and removing critical mail sorting equipment, threaten the timely delivery of mail to millions of Americans who rely on the Postal Service for everything from medical prescriptions to ballots.

On September 9, the coalition filed their motion for a preliminary injunction, which Judge Bastian has granted today.

The lawsuit asserts that the postmaster general unlawfully implemented drastic changes to mail service and seeks to stop the service reductions. Immediately after the lawsuit was filed, the postmaster general made public commitments that he would halt some — but not all — of those changes. Since that time, mail delays continue, and questions remain about what changes are still in effect.

The changes at the Postal Service come as President Donald Trump continues to claim without evidence that widespread vote-by-mail will lead to a fraudulent election. Oregon has mandated statewide vote-by-mail elections for the past 20 years. The state has not experienced voter fraud at any significant level.

Changes impact seniors, veterans

The Postal Service changes have impacted more than mail-in elections. They also impair critical mail services that many seniors and veterans rely upon.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many Americans, especially seniors and other high-risk individuals, to rely increasingly on mail delivery services while they stay at home for their health. In general, seniors rely heavily on the mail to receive essentials like medications, Social Security benefits and even groceries.

The policy changes have already impacted our country’s veterans, who are reporting much longer wait times to receive mail-order prescription drugs. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), which provides broad health care services to veterans nationwide, fills about 80 percent of veteran prescriptions by mail. The VA processes about 120 million mail-order prescriptions per year — 470,000 a day. The Postal Service makes daily prescription deliveries to 330,000 veterans across the country.

Impacts of “leave mail behind” policy

Bastian’s ruling puts a stop to DeJoy’s “leave mail behind” policy. According to the policy, Postal Service trucks are required to leave sorting facilities at specified times each day, even if there is still mail to be loaded. As a result, mail that is supposed to be delivered on a certain day has been left to pile up at sorting facilities for delivery at some future date. The states’ motion noted there have been reports of trucks leaving sorting facilities empty because of the policy.

Internal documents from the Postal Service foresaw that this change would cause delays. Though it predicted that the delays would diminish after operational efficiency increased, DeJoy himself acknowledged that did not happen. During congressional testimony, the postmaster general admitted that his “leave behind” policy significantly contributed to slow-downs in First Class mail delivery over the summer.

Changes impact vote-by-mail elections

Across the country, record numbers of American residents are requesting absentee ballots in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For example, in Wisconsin, around 2 million voters are expected to request an absentee ballot and vote by mail. In June, the Postal Service shut down four sorting machines used at its distribution center in downtown Milwaukee, Wis., and planned to remove three more before DeJoy temporarily suspended the removal of sorting machines. Staff shortages have cut the number of employees running each sorting machine in half. Election officials in Wisconsin now report that election mail takes about a week to arrive to voters in Madison, whereas the delivery standard for First Class mail is two-to-three days within the continental U.S.

These delays greatly increase the likelihood that mailed-in votes will miss election deadlines and threaten to disenfranchise a large swath of voters, particularly those most vulnerable to COVID-19 who cannot vote in person without risking exposure to the virus. While some states count ballots that are postmarked by Election Day, even if they arrive after, other states, like Oregon, require that ballots be received on or before Election Day to be counted.

Oregon is joined in the lawsuit by Washington, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin.

The Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ) is led by Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, and serves as the state’s law firm.