New Jersey, New York, and a coalition of state, county, and local governments have filed a lawsuit to block the policy and operational changes recently put in place by the U.S. Postal Service.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, alleges that changes have already disrupted vital mail services and could hamper New Jersey’s administration of the upcoming election, which will primarily use mail-in ballots to protect voters from COVID-19. The plaintiffs contend that the changes – including dismantling hundreds of mail-sorting machines, reducing the number of mailboxes available to the public, and rolling back postal worker overtime – are unlawful because they were implemented without a required public hearing before the U.S. Postal Regulatory Commission. The lawsuit also contends that the changes and the resultant nationwide mail service slowdown represent an abdication of the U.S. Postal Service’s mission, could be harmful to some individuals who receive medications and other products critical to their health via the mail, and violate the elections clause of the U.S. Constitution by interfering with states’ authority to set rules for the election.
“Voting by mail is safe, secure, and reliable and we intend to keep it that way for New Jerseyans. Americans will vote by mail in record numbers this November and the Postal Service’s dramatic changes threaten to disenfranchise voters by disrupting mail service. We will continue working with other state Attorneys General to protect the election and voter rights,” said Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. “Countless people in New Jersey and across the nation, including some of our most vulnerable citizens, rely on the mail for prescription drugs and other things that help them survive. During this critical time, Americans deserve better than a mail slow-down rooted in political gamesmanship.”
Under the U.S. Postal Service’s universal service obligation, the agency has a legal mandate to serve all areas of the country. Its historic commitment has been to ensure that no Americans are unable to access the mail. The lawsuit argues that one of the Postal Service’s most critical functions is to support federal, state, and local elections across the country through the delivery of critical election materials such as ballots, voter registration cards, absentee applications and polling place notifications. The lawsuit argues that the U.S. Postal Service leadership has reduced public access to mail service and essentially institutionalized delays in mail processing and sorting, harming both the plaintiff governments and their residents.
According to the lawsuit, on August 16, a U.S. Postal Service distribution center in Jersey City was still storing marketing mail packages that had been scheduled for delivery as early as July 18.
Americans will vote by mail in record numbers in the November election, the complaint asserts, and the mail service slowdown caused by the U.S. Postal Service’s changes not only threatens to disenfranchise voters, but also to require states to expend “substantial economic and administrative resources” to accommodate vote-by-mail delays.
While Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has said certain of the changes at issue will be suspended, the complaint notes that he has said that removed sorting machines and other equipment will not be returned. He has also not presented a plan to restore timely mail service. The complaint also asserts that President Donald Trump opposes mail-in voting for partisan political reasons, and that he is making “concerted efforts to interfere with” the mail-in voting process by undermining the postal service.
“The Postal Service’s unofficial motto states that ‘neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,’” Grewal said. “The Postal Service has served Americans well since our country’s founding. We are filing this lawsuit to ensure that even politically motivated cutbacks won’t prevent the timely delivery of our residents’ mail.”
The lawsuit is calling on the court to vacate all changes implemented by U.S. Postal Service because they are illegal, and because millions of Americans will not be voting in person in November and are depending upon the timely delivery of election mail to ensure their votes are counted.