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Nessel, other AGs request speeded-up delivery of ballots after Detroit mail delays

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and other states have asked a federal judge to require the U.S. Postal Service to "accelerate the delivery of ballots" after a U.S. House investigation found the Detroit District was the worst in the country for on-time delivery. 

In a Friday hearing, Washington state Solicitor General Noah Purcell asked U.S. District Judge Stanley Bastian of the Eastern District of Washington state to order the Detroit area USPS and other Postal Service areas experiencing delays to perform a "sweep" in the next 24 hours and then every night ahead of Election Day to find delayed or undelivered ballots. The request also asked for daily data on the results of that sweep.

Postal Service officials responded that sweeps and data reporting are already occurring, but hesitated to allow officials into the postal facilities to ensure compliance, according to minutes from the court hearing.

But Purcell argued that the state plaintiffs wanted "accountability that these are happening."

"If we find out next Wednesday that it was not done, it would be too late," Purcell said, according to court minutes.

Bastian asked the state attorneys general and Postal Service to try to reach an agreement on the requirements and "report back by Monday."

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%

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel

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,"

"The data reflect persistently low rates of on-time delivery of a significant number of ballots in certain regions," according to the motion. 

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

Before cost-cutting changes were made this summer, the Detroit District delivered 85% of mail on time, according to the report by Peters, the top Democrat on the panel that oversees the Postal Service who is also running for reelection.

Nearly 2.6 million people have already returned their absentee ballots of the roughly 3.3 million absentee ballots requested, according to Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson's office.

Detroit residents requested about 181,000 absentee ballots, but nearly 50,000 haven't been returned yet. 

People who mailed their absentee ballots in from Detroit or portions of Oakland County or Washtenaw County could be affected by the postal service delays, even if they put their ballot in the mail by Oct. 19, as Benson had advised. 

"You really have to make sure that you check online and you've made certain that your ballot has been received by your clerk," Nessel said. "If not, you really have to get in there either today or over the weekend or Monday or Election Day and you can spoil your absentee ballot and then vote in person.

"We can't be assured that all of those absentee ballots will have been received," she said. 

eleblanc@detroitnews.com