‘Someone may have to pay a price’: Judge lashes Postal Service for defying ballot order

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A federal judge thrashed the U.S. Postal Service Wednesday, and suggested he might seek testimony from Postmaster General Louis DeJoy for declining to comply with a last-minute court order to deploy postal inspectors to sweep facilities for undelivered ballots.

“Someone may have a price to pay for that,” said Judge Emmet Sulliivan of the U.S. District Court of Washington D.C.

Sullivan expressed frustration that the Postal Service’s decision to ignore his order — meant to ensure that undelivered ballots reached state officials on Election Day — and not to inform him about it until after the fact. USPS contended that the order would have required a substantial reconfiguration of its Election Day operations that proved unfeasible amid other responsibilities.

But Sullivan said he would’ve gladly considered alternative options if he had been informed that his order was too onerous. He told a Justice Department attorney, arguing on behalf of USPS, that he believes the leadership of the Postal Service is to blame.

“It’s your clients. Each and every one of them, starting at the top of the food chain,” he said. “I don’t want you to keep falling on the sword.”

The Postal Service has come under scrutiny for slipping delivery times since DeJoy, a prominent Republican donor, was installed to lead the agency earlier this year. Democrats worried that the changes he implemented were intended to influence mail-in balloting, which states turned to in order to facilitate voting amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Sullivan, who is overseeing a civil rights suit related to the Postal Service, demanded testimony from senior officials at the Postal Service later Wednesday afternoon, and DOJ offered Kevin Bray, the Postal Service’s lead official responsible for mail processing. Sullivan, though, indicated he thought DeJoy may ultimately be required to deliver testimony.

“The postmaster’s going to have to be deposed or appear before me,” Sullivan said, adding, “I’m not going to forget it.”

Sullivan had ordered the Postal Service to conduct sweeps in a slew of facilities across the country to identify and expedite undelivered ballots. In response to the order late Tuesday, the Postal Service acknowledged it didn’t comply with Sullivan’s order.

“As discussed above, the Inspection Service was not able to conduct specific sweeps at specific times of the day, as this was not operationally possible to implement in the limited time available,” he said. “Our understanding at the hearing was that the Court did not intend for the Postal Service to make operational changes on Election Day, but rather to confirm that the existing processes were functioning as anticipated.”

USPS indicated that sweeps were conducted of the facilities and identified only “a handful of ballots” that hadn’t been delivered.

Plaintiffs in the case, including the NAACP, urged Sullivan to issue an order to ensure that USPS follow through on the court-ordered sweeps to ensure that ballots in states with extended deadlines — like Texas and Pennsylvania — are delivered on time.

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