USPS still hasn't reversed election mail slowdown despite multiple court orders: attorneys general

New inspector general report faults changes ordered by Trump donor turned Postmaster General Louis DeJoy for delays

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published October 21, 2020 11:58AM (EDT)

U.S. Postal Service Postmaster General Louis DeJoy testifies at a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing in the Rayburn House Office Building on August 24, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee is holding a hearing on "Protecting the Timely Delivery of Mail, Medicine, and Mail-in Ballots." (Tom Brenner-Pool/Getty Images)
U.S. Postal Service Postmaster General Louis DeJoy testifies at a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing in the Rayburn House Office Building on August 24, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee is holding a hearing on "Protecting the Timely Delivery of Mail, Medicine, and Mail-in Ballots." (Tom Brenner-Pool/Getty Images)

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is still not processing election mail at the rate it did prior to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy's controversial changes, reigniting concerns that mail-in ballots in certain states may not arrive before voting deadlines, according to states who sued the agency over a reported mail slowdown.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who is leading a multi-state coalition in a lawsuit challenging the USPS' "illegal" changes, claimed in a Monday federal court filing that the agency's performance was down more than 5% since DeJoy implemented the changes in July and continued "to be lower than at any point in 2020," according to Bloomberg News.

Multiple federal courts issued orders blocking DeJoy's changes in response to lawsuits from Shapiro and other attorneys general, but the filing alleged that some USPS divisions had not complied with the orders. One division has a compliance rate as low as 85%, and others have not reported performance metrics, the filing said. The USPS has still barely increased late and extra trips as required by the orders, it added.

"Despite being subject to multiple injunctions, defendants have not improved their service performance," Shapiro said, asking the court to appoint an independent monitor to ensure the agency complies with the courts.

Though DeJoy, a top donor to President Donald Trump and the Republican Party, has disputed Democrats who criticized him for instituting changes like limiting overtime and removing high-speed mail sorting machines, a new USPS inspector general report faulted the changes ordered by the new postmaster general for reduced performance.

"No analysis of the service impacts of these various changes was conducted, and documentation and guidance to the field for these strategies was very limited and almost exclusively oral," the report says. "The resulting confusion and inconsistency in operations at postal facilities compounded the significant negative service impacts across the country."

The report added that the changes "individually may not have been significant," but "launching all of these efforts at once, in addition to the changes instituted by the postmaster general, had a significant impact on the Postal Service."

The USPS Board of Governors disputed the report, arguing that the changes were not disruptive and "similar to efforts that the Postal Service pursued over the last several years."

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who chairs the House Oversight and Reform Committee, and  Committee of Oversight and Reform, said in a statement that the IG report confirmed that "Postmaster General Louis DeJoy's sweeping changes — which were hastily implemented without analyzing their potential impact — caused serious delays across the country."

Maloney added that the report undermined DeJoy's testimony to the committee denying that he was aware of the changes, "calling into question whether the postmaster general is continuing to mislead Congress and the American people to this day."

USPS data shows that mail disruptions have been particularly pronounced in key swing states, according to The Washington Post. In 17 postal districts across 10 swing states, on-time first-class mail arrival rates are just 83.9%, or about 7.8% lower than in January and 2% lower than the national average since the changes were implemented. More than 15% of first-class mail in those districts arrives later than the USPS' one- to three-day delivery window.

This has sparked alarm in states like Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin, where ballots will be rejected if they arrive after Election Day. In Detroit, for example, only 71% of mail arrived on time in October versus 92.2% in January.

Some major cities in North Carolina have also experienced 10% drops in on-time arrival rates, while "timeliness also varied widely in postal districts in Pennsylvania and Florida," according to the report.

USPS spokesman David Partenheimer told the outlet that the agency had maintained its performance levels despite mail levels surging amid an unprecedented rise in mail voting.

"The Postal Service is fully committed and actively working to handle the increase in election mail volume across the country over the next two weeks," he said, adding that workers had been told to use "extraordinary measures" to speed up deliveries like special pickups, extra trips and Sunday deliveries.

But some postal workers told the outlet that the "ballot-handling directives from higher-ups have been chaotic." Workers in Michigan claimed that they were instructed to focus on package delivery over mail ballot collection. Workers in Pennsylvania plan to handstamp ballot envelopes to avoid them getting caught up in overwhelmed processing plants.

"In the current state of the world, there is nothing a voter could do to work around problems in the post office," J. Remy Green, an attorney representing a group of voters who sued the USPS, told The Post. "I think, at the end of the day, the damage that has been done here — it's not just service performance and quantifiable damage. It is a kind of psychic damage to the confidence of voters and confidence in the vote."

Lawmakers who tried to gain access to see how the USPS is handling mail at large facilities have been blocked by the agency, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., said he and two other lawmakers were blocked from entering a large mail processing facility in his state despite previously touring the facility "without incident or objection." He added that he was told he could not enter nonpublic areas of the facility within 45 days of the election over concerns that doing so would violate the Hatch Act, which bars federal employees like postal workers from engaging in political activity. Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., said he was blocked due to Hatch Act concerns, as well.

"These are phony-baloney excuses," Pascrell told the outlet. "It's not like I'm trying to get into Area 51 or something."

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., said she was also blocked from touring a facility in Florida prior to the 45-day window in early September. Schultz said she was told that the agency would require her to take a "bogus training course" to gain access.

The agency also faces a lawsuit from a union representing postal police officers after the agency issued an order ending daily patrols aimed at preventing robbery of mail collection boxes and vehicles, according to the Journal.

Officers say the move has "left letter carriers without escorts on unsafe routes" and raised concerns that thieves may target mail ballots, according to the report.

The union filed a lawsuit asking a federal court to block the order to "ensure the integrity of the mail" but the litigation is still pending.

"If I was going to undermine public trust in the mail, one of the first things I would do is pull postal police off the street," Frank Albergo, the president of the Postal Police Officers Association, told The Journal.

If the USPS did not intend to undermine election mail security, "then why not wait until after the election to neuter the postal police?" Jim Bjork, a business agent for the union, asked.

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

MORE FROM Igor Derysh