But in a file sent to court shortly before 5 p.m., attorneys for the Justice Ministry representing the Postal Service said the agency would not comply with the order, to better understand inspectors’ schedules.
Attorney John Robinson, writing for the Department of Justice, indicated that the daily review process was already scheduled from 4-8pm on election night. “ Due to the time constraints set by the court order, and the fact that postal inspectors operate nationwide, the defendants were unable to speed up the daily review process to run from 12:30 PM to 3:00 PM without significantly disrupting pre-existing activities on Election Day, It is something that the defendants did not understand in the court of his claim or request. “
The agency revealed Tuesday morning that 300,523 ballots across the country received incoming scans at mail-processing plants, but no exit cleared, leaving voting rights advocates worried that hundreds of thousands of votes might be trapped in the mail system.
Sullivan refused the request for an emergency hearing from the NAACP, which sued the Postal Service with a group of voters and other civil rights groups. But he asked the Justice Ministry’s attorneys to “be prepared to discuss the apparent lack of compliance with his order” at a conference previously scheduled for Wednesday.
“It’s very frustrating,” said Alison Zeff, the attorney representing NAACP. “If they do all of the scans today on time, it doesn’t matter if they violated the judge’s order. They say here that they will get the scans done between 4 PM and 8 PM, but 8 PM is too late, and in some states, it is 5 PM. Late. “
The postal service began “visible” election mail campaigns in January, and agency spokesperson David Partenheimer wrote in an emailed statement, to search for misplaced political mail (such as campaign ads) and election mail (ballots, ballot requests, and registration information). Voters).
Since Thursday, he said, agents from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the agency’s law enforcement arm, have conducted daily reviews at 220 ballot processing facilities. Inspectors roam the facility, monitor mail conditions, and check daily records of political and electoral mail.
Bartenheimer said that in the past 14 months, the postal service handled more than 4.5 billion pieces of political and election messages, a 114 percent increase over the 2016 general election cycle.
“Ballot papers will continue to be accepted and processed upon submission to us and we will deliver them to their intended destination,” Bartenheimer said.
Timely ballot processing results, which refer to the percentage of ballot papers that were counted, stamped, mailed and transported within the agency’s one to three-day service window, worsened in the run-up to Election Day, according to data the agency provided to the court. In 28 states, election officials must receive ballots by the end of Election Day to be counted.
Voting and postal experts say the postal agency should be able to process 97 percent of incoming ballots – or completed ballots sent to election officials. But the data shows that the postal service missed this mark seven out of eight days. In the past five days, treatment scores have dropped from 97.1 percent on October 28 to 89.6 percent on Monday. (The Postal Service did not provide data on Sunday.)
In 17 postal districts covering 151 electoral votes, the processing time rate on Monday was even lower: 81.1 percent.
Sullivan has ordered officials from the Postal Inspection Service, the agency’s law enforcement arm, or the Postal Service Office of the Inspector General, an independent observer, to inspect all processing facilities in the areas of Central Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia Metro, Detroit, Colorado / Wyoming, Atlanta, Houston, Alabama, Northern New England (Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine), Greater South Carolina, South Florida, Lakeland (Wisconsin) and Arizona (which includes New Mexico) by 3 pm
Postal Service attorneys cautioned that the results of ballot processing may not be reliable. The numbers do not include “first mile” and “last mile” mail processing steps that can add time for deliveries. The postal service also encouraged local post offices to sort the ballots themselves and hand them over to election officials, rather than sending materials to regional processing plants.
More than 65 million Americans voted using absentee ballots, according to the US Election Project, and there are still more than 27 million mail-order ballots pending. Experts encourage higher ballot return rates in swing states that could mitigate the effect of postal delays. In Michigan, 85.6 percent of absentee ballots were returned. In Wisconsin, 89.7 percent have been reinstated, and in Pennsylvania, 80.9 percent.
However, the Postal Service on Tuesday continued to try to trace more than 300,000 ballot papers it said entered processing plants but could not be traced. The agency warned that the number was likely high, and that scribes were manually executing ballots at those facilities to speed up delivery. However, officials said they did not know how widespread this process would be and how many ballot papers would remain.
In the 17 postal districts in swing states representing 151 electoral votes, no more than 81,000 ballot papers could be tracked. In Los Angeles, 48,120 ballots were lost, the largest number in any area. San Diego was next, with 42,543 missing.
“At this point, we have no way of knowing if these ballot papers are a cause for concern or not,” Ziv said.
Sullivan was more aggressive than judges in Pennsylvania, New York, and Washington to grant more oversight over the mail. He has ordered the Postal Service to report daily data on polling performance scores and to provide written explanations every day of underperforming districts.
He set a date for daily hearings – some of which included under oath testimony from executive mail managers – about the agency’s struggles. On Monday, he lamented the nation’s insane quilt of mail-order voting rules, saying the system had to be fixed.
“When I read about the astronaut smoothly voting from outer space, there must be a better way for Congress to address all of these issues,” he said.
Sullivan compared the messy mix of Election Day rules with the relative simplicity of the federal income tax deadline: “Think about it. Every year everyone knows that the taxes file by April 15th. It is smooth. If not submitted, then there are penalties. But everyone knows – this is a given. “
By contrast, state mail-in voting deadlines present a spaghetti-like tangle of commuting between the mail service and voters.
“Postal labels matter, postmarks don’t matter.… Delivery matters, delivery after a date doesn’t matter. Why isn’t there one set of rules?” Sullivan said, in conclusion, “Someone needs to modify the system to make sure it works smoothly and is better for voters. The Americans. “
Spencer Hsu contributed to this report.