NEW JERSEY – Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced Tuesday that New Jersey, New York, and a coalition of state, county and local governments are suing to block the policy and operational changes recently put in place by the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). The complaint alleges that these changes have already disrupted vital mail services and could hamper New Jersey’s administration of the upcoming election, which will primarily use mail-in ballots to protect voters from COVID-19.
In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the plaintiffs contend that the changes – including dismantling hundreds of mail-sorting machines, reducing the number of mailboxes available to the public, and rolling back postal worker overtime – are unlawful because they were implemented without a required public hearing before the Postal Regulatory Commission.
The lawsuit also contends that the changes—and the resultant nationwide mail service slowdown—represent an abdication of the USPS’s mission, could be harmful to some individuals who receive medications and other products critical to their health via the mail, and violate the Elections Clause of the U.S. Constitution by interfering with the States’ authority to set rules for the election.
“Voting by mail is safe, secure, and reliable and we intend to keep it that way for New Jerseyans. Americans will vote by mail in record numbers this November and the Postal Service’s dramatic changes threaten to disenfranchise voters by disrupting mail service. We will continue working with other state Attorneys General to protect the election and voter rights,” Grewal said.
“In addition, Grewal said, “countless people in New Jersey and across the nation, including some of our most vulnerable citizens, rely on the mail for prescription drugs and other things that help them survive. During this critical time, Americans deserve better than a mail slow-down rooted in political gamesmanship.” Led by New York Attorney General Letitia James, today’s lawsuit notes that under the USPS’s universal service obligation, the agency has a “legal mandate” to serve all areas of the country, and that its historic commitment has been to ensure that “no Americans are unable to access the mail.”
The complaint also notes that one of the Postal Service’s “most critical functions” is to support federal, State and local elections across the country through the delivery of critical election materials such as ballots, voter registration cards, absentee applications and polling place notifications.
Asserting that the USPS leadership has reduced public access to mail service and essentially institutionalized delays in mail processing and sorting, the complaint alleges harms to both the plaintiff governments and their residents. For instance, the complaint alleges that on August 16, 2020, a USPS distribution center in Jersey City, New Jersey, was still storing Marketing Mail packages that had been scheduled for delivery as early as July 18.
Americans “will vote by mail in record numbers” in the November 2020 election, the complaint asserts, and the mail service slowdown caused by USPS’s “dramatic” changes not only threatens to disenfranchise those voters, but also to require states to expend “substantial economic and administrative resources” to accommodate vote-by-mail delays.
And while Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has said certain of the changes at issue will be suspended, the complaint notes, he has said that removed sorting machines and other equipment will not be returned, and has not presented a plan to restore timely mail service.
Underlying the disruptive changes implemented by the Postal Service, today’s complaint asserts, is President Trump’s opposition to mail-in voting for partisan political reasons, and his “concerted efforts to interfere with” the mail-in voting process by undermining the postal service.
“The Postal Service’s unofficial motto states that ‘neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,’” said Attorney General Grewal. “The Postal Service has served Americans well since our country’s founding. We are filing this lawsuit to ensure that even politically motivated cutbacks won’t prevent the timely delivery of our residents’ mail.”
The complaint concludes by asking the court to vacate all changes implemented by USPS because they are illegal, and because millions of Americans will not be voting in person in November and are depending upon the timely delivery of election mail to ensure their votes are counted.