A federal judge in Manhattan granted a request for relief on Monday from 16 named plaintiffs, including candidates and voters, to ensure that the United States Postal Service delivers absentee ballots on time across the country, and to United States citizens abroad, calling the right to vote “too vital a value in our democracy to be left in a state of suspense in the minds of voters weeks before a presidential election.”
Citing the expected surge in absentee ballot use due to the risk posed by the ongoing global pandemic, Victor Marrero, a judge in the Southern District of New York, said the plaintiffs successfully argued that new policy changes implemented by President Donald Trump and his handpicked Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, were causing service delivery delays that would interfere with the delivery of election mail.
The policy changes, part of DeJoy’s “transformative initiative,” include reduction of overtime pay, elimination of mail sorting machines, and directing mail trucks to leave as scheduled even if that meant leaving mail behind for delivery another day.
In a nearly-90 page ruling, Marrero wrote those changes, along with statements from Trump and his campaign sowing doubt in the reliability of the mail system, “have not provided trusted assurance and comfort that citizens will be able to cast ballots with full confidence that their votes would be timely collected and counted.”
“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,” wrote Marrero. “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."
The injunction requires the United States Postal Service to report weekly on its service delivery standards, to pre-approve overtime in the week ahead of Election Day, and to work with plaintiffs' counsel to draft a memo that must be sent to all postal employees making clear how election mail must be handled. It also requires the government to work with plaintiffs' counsel on the final order so that it does not inadvertently create more problems for the federal agency.
“We can both get the relief we need so that elections are run efficiently and reliably,” said J. Remy Green, lead counsel for the plaintiffs. “But also so that we aren't, kind of, accidentally destroying [the postal system] we're trying to save,” they added.
This is the third federal election law case Green successfully tried this summer. They were lead counsel in the case against the New York State Board of Elections over their attempted cancellation of the New York State presidential primary. Green then teamed up with attorney Ali Najmi, who was also co-counsel in another case against the New York State Board of Elections over postmark problems with absentee ballots.
The pair worked together again in this case against Trump and the post office.
“We are in the midst of a national nightmare,” said lead plaintiff and Democratic congressional candidate Mondaire Jones, who is running to represent New York's 17th congressional district, which includes Rockland and northern Westchester. “The only way that we are going to get ourselves out of this is if everyone's voice is heard,” he added, praising the legal team and Judge Marrero for ensuring that all Americans can cast their absentee ballots with confidence in the upcoming election.
State Senator Alessandra Biaggi, another co-plaintiff, said this decision would ensure that people in her Bronx district, who have endured disproportionate impacts from COVID-19, do not have to risk their health and safety to cast their vote.
“I think that this decision really signals to Americans everywhere that courts are on the side of democracy,” Biaggi said Monday, calling it a historic moment when the Trump administration was being held accountable. While she said they anticipated the government would appeal this decision, “we are ready to fight for democracy all the way to the Supreme Court.”
This is the second ruling in less than a week against the United States Postal Service regarding policy changes it made that could disrupt election mail. On Friday, a federal judge in Washington state granted a request from 14 other states to block operational changes instituted under Trump and DeJoy. The decision issued Monday by the Southern District applies to the entire agency and all parts of its jurisdiction.
A spokesperson for the Southern District of New York declined to comment. A spokesperson for the United States Postal Service has not responded to a request for comment.