Severe operational cuts could hinder the U.S. Postal Service on the eve of a critical national election

RICHMOND —Today, Attorney General Mark R. Herring announced that Virginia is joining a multistate coalition in filing a federal lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s drastic operational changes at the U.S. Postal Service that threaten critical mail delivery services and could undermine the national election in November. The states’ lawsuit asserts that the changes made to the Postal Service are unlawful and seeks to immediately halt the agency’s actions. The coalition’s lawsuit seeks to block the unlawful service reductions and operational changes at the Postal Service.

“The Trump Administration’s illegal, hasty changes to the U.S. Postal Service are nothing more than a thinly veiled attack on our democracy and blatant voter suppression. There is absolutely no plausible justification for why these changes were made,” said Attorney General Herring. “Even more importantly, these changes affect more than just voting – Virginians are having trouble getting life-saving medications, bills and other payments could be late, and other necessary goods might not arrive on time. My colleagues and I are dedicated to making sure that every Virginian’s and every American’s vote counts in this fall’s election and stopping these attacks on our democracy and our postal service.”

The Postal Service cuts, including eliminating staff overtime, altering operations at state distribution centers and removing critical mail sorting equipment, threaten the timely delivery of mail to individuals who rely on the Postal Service for everything from medical prescriptions to ballots.

The Postal Service also recently notified states that it will end its longstanding practice of processing ballots as first-class mail — regardless of what type of postage is used. States and counties that use marketing or bulk-rate postage for their ballots could experience delays that may prevent some ballots from being counted.

The changes at the Postal Service come as President Donald Trump has continued to baselessly claim that widespread vote-by-mail will lead to a fraudulent election.

The president has also threatened to withhold critical emergency funding for the Postal Service as part of an overall coronavirus relief package currently being negotiated in Congress.

Postal Service Changes

Recent changes at the Postal Service instituted by Trump-appointed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy have already resulted in mail delays, Congressional leaders argue.

Those changes include eliminating staff overtime, changing the way mail is sorted and requiring late-arriving mail to be left for delivery the following day.

The Postal Service has also announced plans to stop processing outgoing mail at some state mail distribution centers. This would disproportionately impact rural communities, often significantly increasing the distance mail must travel. For example, mail sent from one address to another in the same town would have to travel all the way to one of the remaining distribution centers and back again before being delivered.

Vote-By-Mail Elections

Many states require that ballots be received on or before Election Day to be counted. In Virginia, a ballot must be postmarked on or before Election Day and received by a local registrar by noon on the third day after the election.

Congressional leaders have been pushing for billions of dollars for the Postal Service in negotiations over a new coronavirus relief package to help shore up the Postal Services finances and to ensure ballots arrive on time.

Trump signaled last week that he will not approve emergency funding for the Postal Service as part of the overall coronavirus relief package. At the same time, he has continued to call into question the integrity of vote-by-mail elections, claiming without evidence that mail-in voting will lead to a fraudulent election.

“They need that money in order to make the Post Office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots. They don’t have the money to do the universal mail-in voting. So therefore, they can’t do it, I guess,” Trump said last week.

Impacts on Seniors and Veterans

Postal Service cuts threaten timely mail deliveries for a range of important services, from prescriptions to utility bills. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many Americans, especially seniors and other high risk individuals, to rely increasingly on mail delivery services while they stay at home for their health. In general, seniors rely heavily on the mail to receive essentials like medications, Social Security benefits and even groceries.

The policy changes have already impacted our country’s veterans, who are reporting much longer wait times to receive mail-order prescription drugs. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), which provides broad health care services to veterans nationwide, fills about 80 percent of veteran prescriptions by mail. The VA processes about 120 million mail-order prescriptions per year — 470,000 a day. The Postal Service makes daily prescription deliveries to 330,000 veterans across the country. 

Legal Claims

Attorney General Herring and his colleagues assert that the Postal Service has acted outside of its authority to implement changes to the postal system, and did not follow the proper procedures required by federal law.

The law requires that changes at the U.S. Postal Service that cause a nationwide impact in mail service must be submitted to the Postal Regulatory Commission. The commission then evaluates the proposal through a procedure that includes public notice and comment. The federal government’s failure to perform this mandatory duty deprived the states of their statutory right to notice and comment on USPS’ nationwide service changes.

Absentee and Early Voting in Virginia

Virginians can vote early at their local registrar’s office or at a satellite voting location starting 45 days before Election Day (September 19th) and ending the Saturday before Election Day (October 31st). You do not need to have a reason to vote absentee or fill out an application to vote absentee before voting early in an election. Once at the registrar’s office or satellite voting location, you must provide your name and address and show an acceptable form of ID or sign an ID Confirmation Statement. Additionally, accessible equipment and/or curbside voting is available upon request.

Virginians can apply online to vote by mail and once you have applied you can check the status to see if your application was received, and whether your ballot was sent and received.

Virginians can also submit vote-by-mail application forms through the mail, by fax or by email by downloading the Vote by Mail Application Form and returning the completed form to your local registrar by mail, fax, or scanned in an email attachment. You will receive your ballot once your form is received. Complete and return your ballot to your local registrar by 7:00 PM on Election Day. If you are returning your ballot by mail, it must be postmarked on or before Election Day and received by your registrar by noon on the third day after the election. 

Joining Attorney General Herring in the lawsuit are the attorneys general of Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro today announced a complementary multistate lawsuit to be filed in Pennsylvania.