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Judge orders USPS to accelerate Detroit delivery, check daily for undelivered ballots

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

A federal district judge ordered the U.S. Postal Service Friday to conduct nightly sweeps for undelivered absentee ballots at its Detroit area offices after the mailing district was found to be the worst in the nation. 

The order from Washington District Judge Stanley Bastian also applies to the Lakeland District in Wisconsin. 

In August, Michigan joined a coalition of 13 states in suing the USPS over mail delays. The coalition includes Washington state, Colorado, Minnesota, Maryland, Virginia and Wisconsin. 

USPS supporters march around the Royal Oak Post Office on Saturday, August 22, 2020.

Bastian's Friday order came after the attorneys general in the case asked for accelerated delivery of ballots, specifically in Detroit, and proof that the USPS was regularly checking for delayed or undelivered ballots. 

Even with Friday's order, Attorney General Dana Nessel warned residents against using the mail to deliver their ballots. She also advised people who already mailed their ballots — particularly in Detroit, Oakland County and Washtenaw County — to check online at michigan.gov/vote to ensure their ballot had been received.

“Every Michigan voter should ensure their voice is heard and their ballot counts," Nessel said in a statement. "Drop off your absentee ballot in person or go to the polls on November 3rd.”

If the postal service comes across any undelivered incoming ballots during its "all clear" processes it must make every effort to deliver the ballots to clerks by 8 p.m. on Election Day, Bastian ordered.

If the postal service comes across any outgoing ballots yet to be delivered to voters, the service must make every effort to deliver them on or before Monday.

From Sunday through Nov. 10, the postal service is required to report the results of its "all clear" process to Bastian. 

The "all clear" check occurs when the postal facilities conduct a daily search for undelivered election mail in order to speed up delivery of those pieces. The USPS has already bee conducting those sweeps, the agency had argued, but attorneys general in several states wanted more proof those sweeps were taking place.

Bastian also granted the attorneys general in the case "reasonable access" to USPS facilities to ensure they are complying with the order. 

The slowed mail times in Detroit — first analyzed in a report from Democratic U.S. Sen. Gary Peters — resulted in the Detroit District landing a processing score for ballots sent from voters to their election offices of 57% to 84% in the past week. The national average is 93%

The score reflects the percentage of ballots that were delivered within one to three days. 

The Detroit District ranked last out of 67 Detroit USPS regions. 

The Detroit District's processing score for delivering ballots to voters from clerks was 60% in the past week, while the national average is 91%.

The U.S. Postal Service had argued the figures were misleading because they measure a small sample size, but the attorneys general in the case said it was still a "significant number."

eleblanc@detroitnews.com