A federal judge on Tuesday ordered U.S. Postal Service inspectors to sweep locations in several states for left behind mail-in ballots and to send them to be counted immediately. The order comes after the Postal Service revealed more than 300,000 ballots were received but unable to be traced to their destination, according to data analyzed by the NAACP.
The order, issued by U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, required Post Service inspectors and law enforcement to sweep facilities with low processing scores "to ensure that no ballots have been held up and that any identified ballots are immediately sent out for delivery." The order affects facilities in six key battleground states, including Michigan, Georgia, Texas, Arizona and Florida.
The sweeps, which affect 12 postal districts, were ordered to begin at 12 p.m. ET and be completed by 3 p.m. ET. Inspectors were sent to facilities in Central Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Detroit, Colorado/Wyoming, Atlanta, Houston, Alabama, Northern New England, Greater South Carolina, South Florida, Lakeland, and Arizona.
However, attorneys for the Justice Department, which is representing the Postal Service, said it was "unable to accelerate" the review process "without significantly disrupting preexisting activities" on Election Day. The government claims that on election night, the postal inspectors were scheduled to conduct their daily review from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. before the polls close.
"The Postal Inspection Service is or shortly will be conducting observations of 220 facilities for potential incidents involving Election Mail, to include reviewing staging and non-staging areas for ballots," the government said in a filing Tuesday. The inspectors will be at the identified facilities "throughout the evening."
The lawsuit, filed by the NAACP and other civil rights groups, alleged that Postmaster General Louis De Joy "impeded the timely distribution of mail, implemented crippling policies on postal workers, and sabotaged the United States Postal Service in a blatant attempt to disenfranchise voters of color." Judge Sullivan said there would be a 12 p.m. ET status conference Wednesday to address the Postal Service's lack of compliance with his order.
Sullivan's order on Tuesday comes as a resolution to one of many pending lawsuits against the Postal Service. After a summer of cost-cutting measures led to slower mail times, many lawsuits against the service claimed the slower responses before the election was a form of voter suppression.
Government officials have pushed back against accusations of voter suppression. The Department of Justice has argued that daily reports from facilities are unreliable, saying many ballots are not tracked by the service's measurement system. The department also blamed the slower mail rates on the constraints of the coronavirus pandemic and a lack of employee availability, something they said has already been addressed.