Unlawful Changes to USPS Operations Threaten Right to Vote for Millions of Americans Planning to Vote by Mail During COVID-19 Pandemic
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Attorney General Karl A. Racine today joined a coalition of seven Attorneys General led by Pennsylvania in filing a lawsuit to stop the Trump administration from undermining the United States Postal Service (USPS) in order to interfere with the November election. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against the Trump-appointed Postmaster General, the Chairman of the Postal Service Board of Governors, and USPS, challenges recent operational changes made by USPS. These changes have already caused significant delays in mail delivery and threaten states’ ability to hold free and fair elections amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. They come as President Donald Trump continues to baselessly attack mail-in voting as fraudulent. The lawsuit seeks to reverse the changes at USPS, protect the right to vote for millions of Americans who plan to cast ballots by mail, and ensure that states are able to manage their own elections.
“The objective of this lawsuit is to prevent the Trump Administration from intentionally and unlawfully undermining the delivery of mail in voting ballots for the purpose of interfering with the November elections,” said AG Racine. “Americans need a safe, secure, and reliable way to cast their ballots as COVID-19 continues to spread. Allowing everyone the choice to vote by mail—as President Trump himself has done in several recent elections—is the obvious answer. Our coalition of state Attorneys General is working to undo the damage already done and make sure everyone’s ballot is counted in November.”
The U.S. Postal Service touches the lives of virtually every American and handles 470 million pieces of mail each day. The Postal Service is vital to the U.S. economy and health care system, delivering paychecks, bills, and prescriptions. It is also critical to American democracy. Over the past several decades, voting by mail has expanded nationwide, from 7.8 percent of ballots cast in 1996 to 20.9 percent in 2016. During the 2018 midterm elections, USPS handled 42 million ballots. Today, every state offers some form of voting by mail, and a growing number of states conduct all-mail elections. For seniors and individuals with disabilities or pre-existing conditions, access to mail-in ballots is especially important during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
In July 2020, Trump-appointed U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy implemented service and policy changes at the Postal Service. These included limiting staff overtime, prohibiting so-called “extra or late trips” for mail carriers, and putting letter carriers on rigid schedules. In some areas, substitute workers are not being assigned when others are out for reasons such as contracting COVID-19, despite the fact that USPS is experiencing increased package volume. The combination of too few workers, elimination of late and extra trips, rigid adherence to start and end times, and increased package volume is causing undelivered mail to pile up.
These changes have impacted millions of Americans, who have been left waiting days or weeks to receive bills, paychecks, medications, and other essential items. They also come as President Trump has repeatedly and falsely claimed that vote-by-mail will lead to a fraudulent election. While an unprecedented number of Americans are expected to vote by mail in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, President Trump has publicly stated that he opposes additional funding for USPS because he wants to prevent expanded mail-in voting.
The Attorneys General allege that the Trump Administration’s changes to USPS operations violate the U.S. Constitution and the Postal Reorganization Act by:
- Interfering with states’ ability to manage their own elections: The Constitution grants states the authority to administer “the times, places, and manner of holding elections,” and states exercised that authority when they chose to allow voters to vote by mail. In 2020, many states are heavily prioritizing vote-by-mail to reduce the risks of COVID-19 transmission, and some jurisdictions, including the District, are mailing ballots to all eligible voters. States made decisions about how to safely and fairly administer their elections based on USPS’s history of delivering election mail in a timely fashion. By making last minute changes that could prevent ballots from being delivered by legally required deadlines, USPS undermines states’ ability to ensure fair elections.
- Disproportionately preventing seniors from voting: The Trump administration’s changes to USPS disproportionately harm senior citizens over the age of 65, who are both more likely to vote by mail and more at risk of harm from COVID-19. By disenfranchising those over 65 in this way, these changes violate the 26th Amendment of the Constitution, which guarantees that U.S. citizens age eighteen or older may not have their right to vote “denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.”
- Failing to efficiently deliver mail: Under the Postal Reorganization Act, USPS is required to deliver mail efficiently nationwide, and to prioritize the efficient delivery of important mail when making policy. However, the policies adopted by USPS in July 2020 actively undermine the Postal Service’s “efficient system of collection, sorting, and delivery” of the mail.
- Failing to give required notice of nationwide service changes: USPS is legally required to give advance notice anytime they make a change that “will generally affect service on a nationwide or substantially nationwide basis.” Under the Postal Reorganization Act, before USPS can make substantial changes to service, it must submit a proposal to the Postal Regulatory Commission requesting an advisory opinion, the Commission must hold a hearing, and the public may submit comments. None of these steps were taken before Postmaster General DeJoy implemented recent changes.
AG Racine filed today’s lawsuit along with the Attorneys General of Pennsylvania, California, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts and North Carolina.
A copy of the lawsuit is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2020-08/DeJoy-USPS-Complaint.pdf
Voting in the District of Columbia
District residents can find information about registering to vote and voting by mail or in-person in 2020 on the D.C. Board of Elections website: https://www.dcboe.org/