A federal judge criticized how the US Postal Service had provided updates on mail-in ballots and said he’d force Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to explain himself in court.
The comments came as part of a lawsuit brought by the NAACP and other civil-rights groups seeking to get the Postal Service to deliver mail ballots in a timely manner.
The judge, Emmet Sullivan, said the USPS hadn’t communicated all its actions in a timely manner.
There’s no question that the mail-in votes that have been cast are legitimate.
A federal judge on Wednesday said he would force Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to testify in court about how the US Postal Service handled the election, saying he’d depose him if necessary.
He made the comment in a hearing in a lawsuit brought over the USPS’s handling of the 2020 election during the coronavirus pandemic.
“The postmaster’s going to have to be deposed or appear before me,” Judge Emmet Sullivan said.
Sullivan expressed fury at the USPS’s performance, accusing it of slow-walking responses to his orders and saying the agency had not effectively communicated with its own lawyers throughout the case.
He asked Kevin Bray, the USPS official overseeing processing election mail, to appear in court on Wednesday afternoon. When a Justice Department lawyer, Joseph Evan Borson, said he’d check with Bray’s schedule to see what time he’s available, Sullivan cut him off.
“You will have to tell him when he’s available,” Sullivan said. “It’s up to the court when he’s available.”
Civil-rights groups have been trying to ensure the USPS properly handles mail-in ballots
The lawsuit was brought in August by the NAACP and a consortium of other civil-rights groups.
They sought rulings from Sullivan, a federal district judge in Washington, DC, to ensure that the USPS handled mail-in ballots so that every vote cast by mail would arrive at ballot-processing locations before states’ deadlines.
States have different rules for counting mail-in ballots. Some count them as long as they were postmarked by Election Day. Others count them as long as they arrive by Election Day.
Mail delivery has slowed this year under DeJoy’s watch.
In a statement, the USPS told Business Insider that no ballots were unaccounted for.
“These ballots were delivered in advance of the election deadlines. We employed extraordinary measures to deliver ballots directly to local boards of elections,” the statement said. “When this occurs, by design, these ballots bypass certain processing operations and do not receive a final scan. Instead, they are expedited directly to the boards of elections.”
A record number of mail-in ballots were cast in the US this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, and it is normal for states to continue counting them in the days and weeks ahead.
On Tuesday, Sullivan ordered the USPS to reexamine mailing locations in 15 states and ensure that any found ballots would be delivered before polls closed.
The Postal Service said it wouldn’t comply with the order and would keep its own schedule, which would finish its sweep by 8 p.m. Tuesday. Sullivan asked for Wednesday’s hearing to grill the USPS on its noncompliance.
In a court filing Wednesday morning, the USPS provided data showing that more than 300,000 mail-in ballots had not been fully traced. But it said the figures, which Sullivan required, were not reliable.
Michael Barber, a USPS operations manager, said in court that many postal employees delivered ballots to election officials by hand. That method, he said, is faster than sending the ballots through the process that records them in the service-performance data.
Borson said the USPS would supply more complete data later Wednesday.
He also said the USPS completed its court-mandated sweep of the 220 mail processing locations that handle election mail and found only “12 or 13” ballots in the wrong place, all of which, he said, were delivered in time.
The USPS, however, did not confirm that it had performed a sweep of all its Texas locations. Sullivan ordered the agency to instruct local officials to complete their sweep by the end of the day on Wednesday.
When Bray testified later Wednesday afternoon, he gave details about the various processes the USPS has to handle different kinds of mail-in ballots. He said the agency worked to identify all ballot boxes ahead of the election so it could quickly deliver all ballots cast at those locations by Election Day deadlines.
Throughout Wednesday’s hearing, Sullivan and lawyers for the civil-rights groups accused the USPS of not effectively communicating with the Justice Department lawyers defending them in the case.
“It’s your clients, each and every one of them, starting at the top of the food chain,” Sullivan said. “I don’t want you to keep falling on the sword.”
This article has been updated.
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