SALEM, Ore. (AP) -- A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Postal Service to take “extraordinary measures” to deliver ballots in time to be counted in Wisconsin and around Detroit, including using a priority mail service.
Chief U.S. District Judge Stanley Bastian in Yakima, Washington, issued the order on Friday after being presented with data showing on-time delivery of ballots sent by voters was too slow in Michigan and Wisconsin. They are both “battleground states” in the November election.
Delivery of ballots in the USPS' Detroit district, for example, has dipped as low as 57% over the past week, Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson's office said Saturday.
“Every vote must be counted,” Ferguson said. “Our democracy depends on it.”
National on-time delivery has been at 93% or higher, said the statement from Ferguson, who leads a coalition of 14 states that filed a lawsuit on Aug. 18 over changes to the Postal Service.
Bastian, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, said that starting Sunday and continuing through Nov. 10, the USPS must report to his court the prior day's “all clear” status for each facility and processing center in the Detroit area and a district covering most of Wisconsin.
If the USPS identifies any incoming ballots in its “all clear” sweeps of these facilities, it must make every effort to deliver those ballots by 8 p.m. local time on Election Day, including by using Priority Mail Express or other extraordinary measures, Bastian said.
Priority Mail Express is an overnight service that costs a minimum of $26.35 per envelope, according to the USPS.com website.
Asked for comment on the judge's order, Postal Service spokesman Dave Partenheimer referred to a fact sheet posted Saturday that says as of Friday, Postal Service employees are authorized to use the Express Mail network to speed completed ballots to their intended destinations.
“We take our legal obligations very seriously and (are) complying with all court orders,” Partenheimer said. “The Postal Service continues to implement extraordinary measures across the country to advance and expedite the delivery of the nation's ballots."
They include extra pick-ups, extra deliveries, and collecting mail on Sunday, Partenheimer said.
Bastian's order was the latest step in a lawsuit brought by 14 states against the Trump administration and the U.S. Postal Service that challenged the Postal Service's so-called “leave behind” policy, where trucks have been leaving postal facilities on time regardless of whether there is more mail to load. The states also sought to force the Postal Service to treat election mail as first-class mail.
Bastian noted after a previous hearing that President Donald Trump had repeatedly attacked voting by mail by making unfounded claims that it is rife with fraud. Many more voters are voting by mail because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
U.S. Department of Justice attorney Joseph Borson sought to assure the judge at an earlier hearing that the Postal Service would handle election mail promptly.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a major donor to Trump and the GOP, has repeatedly insisted that processing election mail remains the organization's top priority. DeJoy announced he was suspending some changes — including the removal of iconic blue mailboxes in many cities and the decommissioning of mail processing machines, after his order caused a national uproar.
Washington state's lawsuit was joined by Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin.
The federal judge said lawyers for the plaintiffs “shall have reasonable access to USPS facilities to monitor compliance with the court's orders.”