Update: After publication, a federal judge issued a formal order giving the proposed order legal effect.
The USPS says it will authorize "extraordinary measures" to deliver ballots by their respective state deadlines up to and through Election Day, including checking every residential mailbox for a ballot and putting ballots in Express Mail rather than regular First-Class mail.
But to keep the USPS honest, plaintiffs in one of the many lawsuits against the USPS regarding election mail have proposed a court order that, if implemented, would require the USPS to implement these measures in the 22 districts with an election mail on-time delivery rate of less than 90 percent rather than merely saying it will do so. There are 67 USPS districts across the country.
Specifically, the proposed order would require the USPS to implement the extraordinary measures, as detailed in an October 20 memo, that have to do with delivering ballots rather than, say, new policies for window clerks. . They include:
- Having letter carriers "physically go to all residential and open business delivery points" on October 31 to check for any outgoing mail, especially ballots
- Bypassing the typical mail sorting process—where mail is sent to a sorting facility and put through postmarking and sorting machines—by having ballots postmarked within the post office itself and then delivered to the local election office the next day (or sooner if necessary)
- Establishing a "hub-and-spoke" process for relaying ballots within the local post office system on Monday, November 2 and Tuesday, November 3. Under this arrangement, each post office will identify a driver and vehicle to take all collected ballots to the designated post office that serves the local elections office, which will then make designated delivery runs. On Election Day, carriers "will pull ballots from their collection mail and hand them over to their supervisor. Supervisors will exchange ballots around the city, and after the exchange, a designated supervisor makes delivery to the BOE [Board of Elections]."
- Starting today, postal workers are authorized to use Express Mail to "connect completed ballots returned by voters entered close to or on Election Day to their intended destination."
When asked about the proposed court order, USPS spokesperson David Partenheimer said, "We take our legal obligations very seriously and complying [sic] with all court orders. The Postal Service continues to implement extraordinary measures across the country to advance and expedite the delivery of the nation’s ballots."
Do you work for the USPS? Do you know anything about these "extraordinary measures" and whether they've been implemented in your area? I'd love to hear from you. Email me at email@example.com.
This proposed court order is the product of a previous court order that required the USPS to report a host of daily delivery performance statistics including those specifically for election mail.
But the USPS warned the court that those statistics are flawed. Not all ballots have the necessary barcode to be tracked, the USPS said. And the daily data doesn't include the first or last mile of the ballot trip (this would mean the reported statistics are, if anything, reporting higher on-time rates than in reality). Moreover, the "local turnaround" measures included in the extraordinary measures would essentially bypass the ballot tracking system and therefore not be captured in the statistics even though it delivers ballots faster.
The back-and-forth over the extraordinary measures well captures the entire controversy over USPS service since Postmaster General Louis DeJoy took over, in which the USPS says they didn't do anything to delay service but they're also fixing it so there's no need for the court to make them do anything because they're already doing it. It's confusing, makes it difficult to ascertain what is really going on inside the massive postal network, and undermines confidence in the USPS when Americans need it to just work more than ever.
This week, the Secretaries of State for Michigan, Minnesota, and Rhode Island have instructed voters not to mail ballots back because it is too late. Instead, they directed voters to return ballots in person.
Subscribe to The Mail, Motherboard’s newsletter about the USPS, voting security, and democracy.