Washington Post – At least 21 states planned to file lawsuits this week against the U.S. Postal Service and its new postmaster, Louis DeJoy, seeking to block service changes that have prompted widespread reports of delays and accusations of an intentional effort to thwart voters from mailing their ballots this fall.
The suits, including one filed Tuesday afternoon in federal court in Washington state, will argue that the Postal Service broke the law by making operational changes without first seeking approval from the Postal Regulatory Commission. They will also argue that the changes will impede states’ ability to run free and fair elections, officials from several state attorney general’s offices told The Washington Post. The Constitution gives states and Congress, not the executive branch, the power to regulate elections.
“We will be taking action to reinstate Postal Service standards that all Americans depend on, whether it’s for delivering their prescription drugs or for carrying their very right to vote,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said at a news conference.AD
Pennsylvania’s suit is being joined by California, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts and North Carolina, among others. It names DeJoy, the Postal Service and the chairman of the USPS’s board of governors, Robert Duncan, as defendants.
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced his state was filing a separate suit, joined by Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin. The lawsuit names President Trump as a defendant, along with the Postal Service and DeJoy, accusing the president of infringing on state power to administer elections through his attacks on mail balloting.
All the states are represented by Democratic attorneys general, but Shapiro said Tuesday that he would not be surprised if Republican attorneys general join the litigation.
“We’re trying to stop Trump’s attacks on the Postal Service, which we believe to be an attack on the integrity of the election. It’s a straight-up attack on democracy,” Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) said in an interview. “This conduct is illegal. It’s unconstitutional. It’s harmful to the country. It’s harmful to individuals.”
“We’re asking a court to make him stop,” he said.
The Trump campaign and the Postal Service did not respond to a request for comment.
Trump said last week that he was opposed to an emergency bailout for the agency because he does not want widespread voting by mail in the fall. That prompted a rush of action by state election officials and Democratic lawmakers, who say the president’s attacks on mail voting and the recent operational changes by DeJoy, a top GOP donor, are undermining confidence in the Nov. 3 election.
DeJoy announced Tuesday that he was suspending those initiatives until after the election “to avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail.”AD
In response, the attorneys general said his statement did not change their legal strategy, which is to obtain the force of a court decision to protect mail service. The states in the Washington-led suit plan to seek a temporary restraining order Wednesday to hold DeJoy to his promise, Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring said.
“A tweet or a statement or a press release is one thing,” Shapiro said. “We need to see binding action to reverse these changes.”
He said the states are pursuing multiple suits to incorporate specific circumstances unique to each into the litigation.
New York Attorney General Letitia James is planning separate legal action, she said in a statement Tuesday.
“The integrity of our elections is fundamental to our nation’s democracy and we won’t allow anyone to undermine them, not even the president of the United States,” James said.AD
Washington’s solicitor general, Noah Purcell, said the president has tried to interfere with the state’s elections, a violation of the Constitution’s clear language that elections shall be governed by Congress and the states.
“The constitution give states authority to decide how to hold elections,” Purcell said. “Whether the direction is coming from the president or not, he has said repeatedly that he does not want us doing mail-in voting, even though Washington has been doing it for years without incident.”
The Washington suit, quoting heavily from the president’s tweets and media appearances, alleges Trump has repeatedly and deliberately sowed mistrust about voting by mail, thereby interfering with and undermining the states’ rights to conduct elections.
“He has come out and said he was doing it to give himself an advantage in the November elections,” Herring said. “That’s one of the reasons this lawsuit is so important: to reassure Americans and Virginians that their vote will count in November, and I’m going to make sure of it.”
Among the service changes the suits seek to block are elimination of staff overtime, altered operations at state distribution centers and the removal of mailboxes and critical mail-sorting equipment. All of those threaten the timely delivery of mail to people who rely on the Postal Service for a wide range of essentials, including medical prescriptions and ballots, the states will argue.
“States have the right to conduct mail-in elections if they choose,” Frosh said. “Trump is trying to undermine that.”
The agency’s operational changes caused nationwide slowdowns that the attorneys general argue required advance public notice to and approval by the Postal Regulatory Commission. That process would have enabled the states to weigh in on the impact before the changes were implemented.
Frosh said the operational changes are also a violation of the Voting Rights Act, saying the removal of sorting machines disproportionately hurts cities, which tend to have larger minority populations. The lawsuit also alleges the changes violate the Americans With Disabilities Act by making it more difficult for people with physical disabilities and health conditions to safely cast ballots.
“Because we’re in the middle of a pandemic, this is asking them to risk their lives,” he said.
The USPS also recently warned 46 states and D.C. that it could not guarantee the delivery of ballots under their current deadlines. The agency urged states to send election mail first-class rather than third-class. States and counties that use marketing or bulk-rate postage for their ballots could see delays that may prevent some ballots from being counted.