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Federal Judge Blocks Postmaster General’s Threat to Election: ‘Substantial Risk’ Votes Won’t Be Counted

Louis DeJoy

Louis DeJoy

A federal judge in Manhattan on Monday halted the recent slew of operational and policy changes at the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) and required the agency to begin treating all election-related mail as First-Class or Priority Mail to ensure that all votes are counted in the 2020 election.

In an 87-page order, Southern District of New York (SDNY) Judge Victor Marrero, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, reasoned that the “management and operational confusion” caused by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and President Donald Trump had created a “substantial risk” that not every mail-in ballot would be counted. Such a risk, Marrero found, was a violation of plaintiffs’ First Amendment right to vote and the Fifth Amendment right that their votes be equally counted.

“Their actions have given rise to management and operational confusion, to directives that tend to generate uncertainty as to who is in charge of policies that ultimately could affect the reliability of absentee ballots, thus potentially discouraging voting by mail,” Marrero wrote. “Conflicting, vague, and ambivalent managerial signals could also sow substantial doubt about whether the USPS is up to the task, whether it possesses the institutional will power and commitment to its historical mission, and so to handle the exceptional burden associated with a profoundly critical task in our democratic system, that of collecting and delivering election mail a few weeks from now.”

Marrero conceded that USPS was facing several unique and difficult challenges, citing to the health pandemic and huge surges in the number of voters planning to submit their ballots via mail, but said the court could not allow failures in the agency’s management to potentially undermine citizens’ constitutional rights.

“The Court fully understands that the Postal Service’s operations face an exceptional test during the impending national election. But now, more than ever, the Postal Service’s status as a symbol of national unity must be validated by the demonstrated degree of its commitment to utmost effectiveness of Election Mail service,” Marrero wrote. “And while the Court has no doubts that the Postal Service’s workforce comprises hardworking and dedicated public servants, multiple managerial failures have undermined the postal employees’ ability to fulfill their vital mission.”

In addition to a nationwide injunction ensuring that all ballots and ballot applications be treated as First-Class or Priority mail, Marrero also directed USPS to pre-approve all overtime requests in the two weeks leading up to the election and to provide the court with written updates regarding the agency’s compliance with the court’s order.

A federal judge in Washington on Friday similarly ordered USPS to stop the implementation of several operational changes ordered under DeJoy’s brief tenure, reasoning that such changes were motivated by “partisan politics” and would result in “voter disenfranchisement.”

Read the full order below:

SDNY USPS Order by Law&Crime on Scribd

[image via TOM WILLIAMS_POOL_AFP via Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.