Judge orders hunt for undelivered ballots in Detroit, other cities

Robert Snell
The Detroit News
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A federal judge Tuesday ordered U.S. Postal Service officials to immediately search for undelivered ballots in Detroit and 11 other postal districts, and send any found to polling locations.

The order by U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan of the District of Columbia comes after postal service officials said approximately 300,000 ballots had not been scanned for delivery. He gave postal officials until 3 p.m. Tuesday to conduct the searches and send any identified ballots before polls close.

A judge Tuesday ordered U.S. Postal Service officials to immediately search for undelivered ballots in Detroit and 11 other postal districts, and send any found to polling locations.

The order covers postal facilities in Detroit and other cities and regions in swing states, including central Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Colorado/Wyoming, Georgia, Arizona, Texas, Alabama, northern New England, greater South Carolina and South Florida. 

In an update Tuesday afternoon, government attorneys said a review was ongoing but did not indicate how many ballots, if any, had been found.

“Inspectors will be in the identified Postal facilities throughout the evening,” Justice Department Trial Attorney John Robinson wrote. “Defendants are working as expeditiously as possible to comply with this court’s orders while recognizing physical and operational limitations and the need to avoid disrupting key activities on Election Day.”

Sullivan said the update reflected the postal service's "apparent lack of compliance" and scheduled a noon meeting for Wednesday.

In August, U.S. Postal Service officials warned Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson that mail delivery timelines posed "significant risk" to ballots sent too close to Election Day and that could lead to their disqualification. 

USPS General Counsel Thomas J. Marshall wrote to Benson that Michigan election laws and certain deadlines for requesting and casting mail-in ballots are “incongruous” and “incompatible” with the Postal Service's delivery standards.

At the time, he added the Postal Service "cannot adjust its delivery standards to accommodate state election law."

Michigan U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, the top Democrat on the Senate committee that oversees the Postal Service, in August launched an investigation into the delays, stressing impacts on the delivery of prescriptions, business mail and the record number of ballots expected to be mailed this fall in the presidential election due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In Michigan, the Republican-controlled legislature has approved a measure to let clerks begin some ballot processing in cities or townships with at least 25,000 people the day before Election Day. Democrats had asked for at least three days of processing time and for no population-based limits.

rsnell@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @robertsnellnews

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