The opinions Sunday and Monday were the latest by a court to conclude that Postal Service changes were likely to risk the timely delivery of election mail and hinder state responses to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“It is clearly in the public interest to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, to ensure safe alternatives to in-person voting, and to require that the USPS comply with the law,” Sullivan wrote in a 39-page opinion Sunday in the New York state case.
In a year in which an estimated 80 million citizens expect to vote by mail, with 3.7 percent to 9.3 percent waiting until the Saturday before Election Day to post, “the potential for voter disenfranchisement is immense” in the 28 states that require ballots to be received by Election Day, Sullivan added in the voter suit Monday.
Earlier, on Sept. 17, a judge in Washington state entered a nationwide injunction against changes that he called “a politically motivated attack on the efficiency of the Postal Service” and that were likely to irreparably harm the ability 14 suing states to administer the election.
Stanley A. Bastian, chief judge of the Eastern District of Washington, blocked DeJoy’s limits on delivery trips, decommissioning any mailboxes and sorting machines or reducing processing facilities and retail hours.
On Sept. 21, Manhattan federal judge Victor Marrero entered a similar injunction, ordering the Postal Service to prioritize election mail and preapprove overtime requests for the two weeks surrounding election day.
“The right to vote is too vital a value in our democracy to be left in a state of suspense in the minds of voters weeks before a presidential election,” Marrerro wrote in a lawsuit brought by in several individuals and candidates.
In a House hearing last month, DeJoy rejected accusations that he was impeding the election. He testified that many policy changes were underway before he took office June 15 and were needed to increase efficiency.
Nevertheless, talks Friday were nearing a settlement between the Postal Service and 19 states and D.C. over handling of mailed ballots and the suspension of the postmaster general’s cost-cutting backlogs.
The Postal Service has retreated from the biggest changes. In court filings before Sunday’s opinion, the Justice Department said the agency had directed managers not to reduce overtime, cut retail hours, further close processing facilities or remove collection boxes and sorting equipment.
The service also has said it will continue to apply first-class mail delivery standards to election mail regardless of the paid class and to dedicate additional process, transportation and delivery and collection trips for two weeks surrounding election day to accelerate the delivery of ballots.
Sullivan is also overseeing a related lawsuit brought in federal court in Washington by the NAACP, and a case brought by the Postal Service’s police union to undo an Aug. 25 decision limiting their jurisdiction to crimes on postal property.
In Sunday’s preliminary injunction decision, Sullivan found that the service has removed 711 high-speed sorting machines around the country this year, a nearly 15 percent reduction in capacity, or about 30 million pieces of paper mail per hour.
Postal Service records indicate that on-time delivery of First-Class Mail began to decline in June, falling from roughly 90 to 94 percent to 82 percent in early August.
By August, the agency had removed at least 52 machines in New York state, 27 machines in New Jersey, seven in San Francisco and four machines in Hawaii, the plaintiffs alleged.
In Hawaii, sorting capacity fell by a third, from 300,000 pieces of mail an hour to 200,000, while three towns in western New York — Bowmansville, Depew and Lancaster — that usually receive about 80,000 pieces of mail a day got none on July 11, they claimed.
Similar disruptions occurred in New York and New Jersey in July and August, the suit argued.
In a preliminary injunction Monday, Sullivan again blocked any change to Postal Service delivery and trips, noting that on-time service scores have dropped in 91 percent of the country, according to the agency.
“As stated above, the burden the USPS policy changes place on Plaintiffs’ constitutional right to vote and have their vote counted is significant,” the judge said. “At risk is disenfranchisement in the November election of potentially hundreds of thousands of individuals.