A federal judge in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday ordered the U.S. Postal Service to sweep facilities for remaining mail ballots and rush their delivery, as receipt deadlines close in.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, who has presided over several lawsuits aimed at Postal Service election mail delays, gave the Postal Service until 3 p.m. to "ensure that no ballots have been held up" in regions that have been slow to process mail ballots.
The order comes as a record number of Americans have already cast their ballots for Tuesday’s elections through the mail as a safety precaution during the coronavirus pandemic.
It applies to areas within the battleground states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia, Texas, Florida and Arizona, where polls have shown a tight race between President Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
With the exception of Pennsylvania and Texas, each of those states requires that mail ballots be received by the close of polls on Election Day, meaning late-arriving ballots would not be counted.
Pennsylvania’s Nov. 6 mail ballot due date is also subject to change, after three conservative Supreme Court justices last week held open the possibility of taking up a GOP appeal after Election Day that, if successful, would invalidate any ballots arriving after Nov. 3.
Texas will accept mail ballots postmarked by Election Day and received by 5 p.m. the following day.
Tuesday’s order was the strongest measure Sullivan has imposed so far, after previously ordering the Postal Service to take “extraordinary measures” to deliver election mail and requiring daily progress updates.
Sullivan ordered the sweep of facilities after the Postal Service disclosed a trove of data Tuesday showing continued delays in various regions of the country.
Roughly 300,000 ballots that received a scan indicating they were entered into the mail processing system showed no corresponding destination scan that would confirm their delivery, according to an analysis of Postal Service data by the NAACP, one the groups involved in the litigation.
The judge’s order specifically called for expedited service in Philadelphia and central Pennsylvania; Detroit; Colorado; Wyoming; Atlanta; Houston; Alabama; Northern New England; greater South Carolina; Lakeland and South Florida; and Arizona.
Sullivan previously ordered the Postal Service to restore high-speed mail sorting machines at facilities that cannot process first class election mail efficiently amid the coronavirus pandemic.
He also ordered it to immediately reverse limitations on mail collection that had been put in place by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, commanding the agency to inform workers of the court's changes.
DeJoy issued sweeping operational changes in June and July, citing cost-cutting measures during the pandemic. The alterations included changes to personnel, overtime pay for postal workers and removing mail sorting machines.
However, the changes drew bipartisan backlash from those who accused DeJoy, a major GOP donor and Trump ally who took over the role in June, of trying to use the changes to help the president win reelection.