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Federal judge in Washington issues temporary injunction against USPS operational changes amid concerns about mail slowdowns

Mail delivery vehicles are parked outside a post office in Boys Town, Neb. on Aug. 18, 2020. A U.S. judge on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, blocked controversial Postal Service changes that have slowed mail nationwide. The judge called them "a politically motivated attack on the efficiency of the Postal Service" before the November election.   (Nati Harnik/Associated Press)

A federal judge in Yakima granted a nationwide injunction Thursday that halts changes by the U.S. Postal Service that could slow mail ahead of the Nov. 3 election, arguing that the postal service is under a “politically motivated attack.”

U.S. District Court Judge Stanley Bastian issued the preliminary injunction that would block controversial changes implemented under Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to save money.

In his ruling from the bench, Bastian noted President Donald Trump’s repeated attacks on vote-by-mail and his unfounded claims that it is rife with fraud. Bastian said the defendants took the “remarkable” position that nothing had changed in the approach to election mail.

“This is simply not true,” Bastian wrote. “The states have demonstrated the defendants are involved in a politically motivated attack on the efficiency of the Postal Service.”

With Bastian’s decision, the USPS must stop instructing mail carriers to leave mail behind for a later date, halt their “leave behind” policy that requires delivery trucks to leave at a set time regardless of whether mail is ready, continue to treat all election mail as First Class mail regardless of paid postage, and replace dismantled mail sorting machines.

“Today’s victory protects a critical institution for our country,” Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement. “Americans can now confidently vote by mail and have their voices heard.”

Ferguson led 13 other states in a lawsuit filed Aug. 18 to stop what he called “drastic changes” at the USPS that would jeopardize mail delivery across the country ahead of the election.

The lawsuit sought by Ferguson and 13 other states alleged the new changes caused “irreparable harm,” including delays in delivery of time-sensitive materials.

Bastian granted Ferguson’s motion for expedited discovery on Aug. 27, saying in a hearing that this case was unlike any other and that “time is of the essence.” The Postal Service produced more than 2,300 pages of documents on Sept. 6.

Ferguson then filed a motion for preliminary injunction on Sept. 9, writing that nationwide relief was needed for “deprivation of the right to comment on broad-based changes before implementation.”

In his written ruling, Bastian said voter disenfranchisement is at the heart of DeJoy’s and the Postal Service’s actions, pointing to Trump’s “highly partisan” words and tweets, the effect of the changes on the primary elections and uncounted ballots, and recent attempts and lawsuits by the Republican National Committee and Trump’s campaign to stop the use of ballot drop boxes.

Bastian also cited research that states the majority of the decommissioned high-speed mail sorting machines were located in counties were Hillary Clinton received the most votes in 2016.

Justice Department attorney Joseph Borson argued the Postal Service would handle the election mail promptly and that slow-downs had gotten better since the “leave behind” was first implemented.

The states agreed that mail delays have eased but argued the on-time deliveries remain well below prior levels, according to the Associated Press.

In the hearing, the states argued the Postal Service made the changes without first bringing them to the Postal Regulatory Committee for public comment, which is required by federal law, according to the Associated Press.

The Postal Service’s top lawyer warned Secretary of State Kim Wyman on Aug. 9 that state election laws were inconsistent with USPS delivery standards. Since then, the Secretary of State’s office filed an emergency rule change to allow all ballots mailed within 15 days of Election Day to be mailed at a first-class rate. Wyman has said she was confident in the postal service’s ability to deliver election mail on time.

In response to the ruling, the USPS said it will review the written order once it is published and respond.

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.