Wisconsin and more than a dozen other states Tuesday sued the U.S. Postal Service over mail slowdowns that could hamper delivering absentee ballots this fall, just as the postmaster general backed off on making further changes.
The post office became a political flashpoint over recent weeks as delivery slowed and election clerks braced for an election that will see a surge in absentee voting because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“To pull the rug out from election administrators and voters this close to an election we are arguing infringes on the right to vote,” Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul said.
Just before the lawsuit was filed, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy announced he would hold off on the changes until after the Nov. 3 election because of Congress’ response to them.
“The Postal Service is ready today to handle whatever volume of election mail it receives this fall,” DeJoy said in a statement, adding that resources were available to handle the increase in election mail.
A task force on election mail will be expanded, he said.
Kaul said the attorneys general decided to move forward with the lawsuit because they’re not confident DeJoy will go as far as he should in addressing their concerns.
Kaul said he was worried that President Donald Trump was undermining the country’s election system by attacking the post office and criticizing mail voting.
“We have a long tradition of the peaceful transition of power and the acceptance of results by elected officials of the Democratic Party and of the Republican Party,” the Democratic attorney general said. “And what we’ve seen from President Trump is a significant break from that tradition.”
Kaul urged Congress to act as well. Democrats who control the House plan to take up legislation as soon as Saturday to provide the post office with $25 billion, but Republicans who control the Senate have not said what they will do.
The developments came just hours after Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said he would lead a Senate hearing Friday over the mail delays and funding problems for the post office. DeJoy is to testify before Johnson’s committee and again next week before a House committee.
DeJoy, a top Trump donor, has said the changes at the post office are meant to save money. The changes have included reducing overtime, taking postal sorting equipment offline and reversing policies that require carriers to make additional trips to ensure mail is delivered promptly.
Trump has repeatedly attacked mail voting, alleging without evidence that it leads to election fraud.
Among the shifts in mail service that have Democrats worried is a move to stop treating all election mail as first class. That could mean a regular delay of up to eight days from prior elections.
The general counsel for the Postal Service recently warned many states that their ballot deadlines don’t match up with delivery schedules.
For instance, the post office says it can take up to a week for an absentee ballot to make it from an election clerk to a voter and another week to return it. But Thomas Marshall, general counsel for the Postal Service, recently told the Wisconsin Elections Commission that voters should act much earlier than that.
Wisconsin law allows voters to request absentee ballots as late as the Thursday before the election — usually far too late for the ballot to get counted. Absentee ballots in Wisconsin must be back in the hands of clerks by the time polls close.
Voters in Wisconsin experienced numerous problems with postal delivery in the April election for state Supreme Court.
A recent Postal Service inspector general’s report found hundreds of ballots didn’t get delivered because the post office received them too late. The report also determined one mail carrier repeatedly misdelivered absentee ballots in Fox Point, but it didn’t address some instances in which voters said they never received ballots they had requested.
Critics have warned that in addition to disrupting absentee voting, the slowdown has already interfered with the delivery of medicine, birthday cards and business mail.
The lawsuit argues the Postal Service illegally implemented the changes because it didn’t follow public notice and public comment procedures spelled out in federal law. The changes also impose an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, the attorneys general contend.
The lawsuit was filed in the state of Washington by Washington, Wisconsin and a dozen other states, including Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota. A separate multistate lawsuit is being filed in Pennsylvania.
The lawsuits over the Postal Service come after a wave of litigation in Wisconsin against election officials over how the November election will be conducted. U.S. District Judge William Conley is expected to issue a decision this month, but he is not considering issues directly related to mail delivery.
Oren Oppenheim of the Journal Sentinel and Nicholas Wu of USA TODAY contributed to this report.
Contact Patrick Marley at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.