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Federal judge orders USPS to perform nightly sweeps for ballots in areas where delivery has slowed

Ferguson asked for the order after receiving data showing low rates of on-time delivery in Wisconsin and the Detroit region

YAKIMA — A federal judge in Yakima has ordered the U.S. Postal Service to perform nightly sweeps for ballots in areas where data showed unacceptably low on-time delivery rates in the week leading up to election day.

U.S. District Court Judge Stanley Bastian’s order came after Attorney General Bob Ferguson requested a hearing Friday to update the court after data supplied this week by the Postal Service showed “consistently poor Election Mail performance data in certain regions.”

Judge Bastian’s order requires the Postal Service to perform nightly sweeps for ballots in Wisconsin and the Detroit region in Michigan, and to take “extraordinary measures” to deliver ballots in time to be counted, after the data showed on-time delivery rates lagging in those areas.

“Every vote must be counted,” Ferguson said. “Our democracy depends on it.”

Generally, election mail delivery has improved since Ferguson won his injunction in September. But some areas continue to experience delays. For example, the data show that on-time delivery of ballots sent by voters in Michigan’s Detroit District has dipped as low as 57 percent over the past week. By comparison, national on-time delivery has been at 93 percent or higher.

“The reported data still show that the Postal Service is failing to timely deliver a significant number of trackable ballots, and that such ballots remain undelivered to voters or will not be delivered to elections officials in time to be counted,” Ferguson wrote in his request last night for the hearing.

On Sept. 17, Judge Bastian granted Ferguson’s motion for a nationwide injunction in the case, forcing the U.S. Postal Service to immediately halt its drastic operational changes while the case progressed. That injunction required the Postal Service to take “extraordinary measures” to accelerate the delivery of ballots.

Case background

Ferguson led a coalition of 14 states that filed a lawsuit over the changes to the Postal Service on Aug. 18. The coalition includes battleground states, including Michigan, Nevada and Wisconsin. The Postal Service 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.

Ferguson’s lawsuit asserted that the postmaster general unlawfully implemented drastic changes to mail service. Immediately after Ferguson filed his lawsuit, the postmaster general made public commitments that he would halt some — but not all — of those changes. However, mail delays continued, and questions remained about what changes are still in effect.

The changes at the Postal Service came as President Donald Trump continues to claim without evidence that widespread vote-by-mail will lead to a fraudulent election. Washington state has allowed elections to be conducted completely by mail-in ballot since 2005, and mandated the practice statewide in 2011. The state has not experienced voter fraud at any significant level.

The changes also impaired critical mail services that many seniors and veterans rely upon, impacting the timely delivery of everything from prescriptions to Social Security benefit checks.

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

Assistant Attorneys General Kristin Beneski, Nathan Bays, Andrew Hughes and Cristina Sepe, as well as Deputy Solicitors General Emma Grunberg, Tera Heintz and Karl Smith are handling the case for Washington.

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The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.

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Dan Jackson, Acting Communications Director, (360) 753-2716; dan.jackson@atg.wa.gov

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