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Federal judge tells USPS to take 'extraordinary measures' to process mail-in ballots

The validity of mail-in votes could become a point of contention in the election results

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On the eve of the 2020 election, a federal judge has instructed the United States Postal Service (USPS) to require some "extraordinary measures" to address the slowdown of election ballot processing in key states. 

This is not the first time a federal judge has ordered the USPS to get its election ballot act together. In September, a federal judge in New York ruled that the USPS must make changes to expedite the delivery of election mail and bolster Americans’ confidence in the mail-in voting system.

But this is not a “typical” election because of the COVID-19 pandemic’s expected effect on voter turn-out at their usual polling precincts. In the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, an estimated 33 million ballots were cast via mail. 

So far in the run-up to this year’s election, the Postal Service said it had delivered a record 122 million blank and completed ballots -- four times what was processed in 2016 and within spitting distance of the total 140 million citizens who voted in the 2016 General Election.

The USPS’ marching orders

The USPS claims that First-Class Mail service performance was at 80.85 percent for the week of October 17 through October 23, but Judge Emmet Sullivan thinks the agency can still do better. The marching orders he gave the USPS are designed to take any uncertainty out of processing mail-in ballots relating to Tuesday’s election. 

In his order, Sullivan mandates that the USPS utilize “special procedures” -- like its Express Mail network -- to ensure it “delivers every ballot possible by the cutoff time on Election Day.” Sullivan’s order forced USPS to put the “extraordinary measures” policy into action by 9 p.m. EST on Sunday, November 1.

The USPS has also instructed managers that “all ballots with a local destination must be cleared and processed on the same day or no later than the next morning for delivery to local offices, from now through at least November 7.”

On top of the USPS' daily scans for election mail, it’s requiring that its processing plant managers certify three other key turning points:

  1. All local ballots have been forwarded to the local election centers or post office by 10 a.m., local time, on Monday and Tuesday; 

  2. The Express Mail network is being used for ballots -- “unless there is a faster surface option;” and

  3. Postal workers are quickly delivering local ballots.

Importance of delivering ballots

Lowering the boom push to get as many ballots as possible delivered by Election Day evening has taken on new importance. President Donald Trump has raised suspicion, without evidence, that mail-in voting would lead to pervasive fraud and that the vote will be rigged against him.

As late as Sunday, Trump reiterated his stance that the results should be known by Tuesday night, despite the likelihood that counting and authenticating absentee ballots will take longer than that.

“If people wanted to get their ballots in, they should have gotten their ballots in long before that,” Trump told reporters.

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