Federal court requires USPS to restore overtime and give ballots First-Class treatment

United States Postal Service (USPS) mailboxes are seen stored outside a USPS post office facility in the Bronx New York
United States Postal Service (USPS) mailboxes are seen stored outside a USPS post office facility in the Bronx borough of New York City, New York, U.S., August 17, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Segar

A federal judge in the Southern District of New York has ruled that the United States Postal Service cannot cut funding to employee overtime before the Nov. 3 elections, and moreover must ship ballots as First-Class after Oct. 15.

An injunction issued by U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero ordered USPS under Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to pre-approve all overtime for postal staff from Oct. 26 to Nov. 6 to ensure votes are counted after a concerted effort to hobble its own capacity ahead of the presidential election after a suit spearheaded by new York Democratic congressional nominee Mondaire Jones, state Senator Alessandra Biaggi and elections attorney Ali Najmi.

“All of this, of course, is in a context where the USPS will be handling a record volume of absentee and other mail ballots (alongside what will likely be record turnout), with an unprecedented 76% of Americans eligible to vote by mail as States have taken extraordinary steps to ensure voters can cast their ballots safely without risking infection from a once-in-a-century pandemic,” the complaint argued

After Wednesday hearing on the matter, Marrero said additional tension over how ballots would be handled was one of the first orders of business in issue Monday’s injunction.

“The right to vote is 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, raising doubts as to whether their votes will ultimately be counted,” Marrero said.

DeJoy’s handling of postal matters brought a sense of anxiety to many Americans wondering if disfunction in an underfunded USPS could skew a high-stakes election taking place in the midst of a pandemic. 

DeJoy had to answer to a series of decisions to remove blue collection boxes across the country as well as 700 sorting machines after taking his post over 90 days ago in an Aug. 24 hearing before the House Oversight Committee. Cutting employee overtime and restrictions on extra carrier trips to meet deadlines also caused a stir.

In the heated hearing, DeJoy said he would not restore the sorting machines to service.

Monday morning, USPS put out a fact sheet on their website that claimed the number of collection boxes removed is not uncommon for the average year. It also claimed that only one-third of sorting machines were utilized on a regular basis.

“The Postal Service’s financial position is dire. Since 2007, the Postal Service has experienced nearly $80 billion in cumulative losses – with FY 2019 approaching $9 billion and 2020 closing in on $11 billion in losses despite a statutory requirement that the Postal Service be self-sustaining,” the fact sheet, justifying many of the changes, said. “Postmaster General DeJoy wants to ensure a bright future and financial sustainability for the Post Service. Necessary reform efforts will begin after the election.”

Said financial troubles also stem from a reluctance on the part of the federal government to provide stimulus funds to USPS, leading many to suspect President Donald Trump may be intentionally disenfranchising voters.

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