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NY wants court to declare mail disruptions unconstitutional

Michael R. Sisak
Associated Press

New York – New York’s attorney general added Tuesday to the growing pile of lawsuits seeking to halt disruptions to the U.S. Postal Service, citing substantial delays in mail delivery ahead of November’s presidential election – including several communities in her state that have gone some days without mail.

Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, said the changes amounted to voter suppression, with President Donald Trump admitting earlier this month that he wanted to hamper the postal service’s processing of mail-in ballots, which he fears could tilt the election to Democratic rival Joe Biden.

“These changes are a thinly veiled attempt to advance the president’s own political agenda,” James told reporters on a conference call announcing the lawsuit.

The use of mail-in ballots is expected to surge this year as people continue to stay home because of the coronavirus pandemic, much to Trump’s dismay. Since March, according to James’ lawsuit, the Republican president has publicly voiced opposition to mail-in voting on more than 30 occasions – despite voting by mail himself.

James’ lawsuit, filed federal court in Washington D.C., names Trump, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and the U.S. Postal Service as defendants. DeJoy, a former supply-chain CEO and major donor to Trump and the GOP, faced grilling questions from Congress in recent days over the changes.

James’ lawsuit is the third filed by state attorneys general seeking to reverse changes to the postal service’s operations.

Last week, Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, both Democrats, filed lawsuits in collaboration with other states. James said those cases differed from hers, leading her to file a separate lawsuit. James’ lawsuit also includes Hawaii and New Jersey as plaintiffs, as well as the cities of New York and San Francisco.

Retired postal worker Glenda Morris protests postal cutbacks, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, in New York.

James ties the mail slowdown to the well-publicized removal of collection boxes, the dismantling of sorting machines and the elimination of overtime and extra trips that had ensured timely deliveries. She is seeking a court order to cancel the changes and to prevent the post office from implementing them going forward.

“We have sought immediately to declare his actions as unconstitutional and to suspend all of those actions immediately, so that we can move forward in our effort to make sure that voting ballots are returned to respective board of elections in a timely fashion,” James said.

Three communities near Buffalo, which together receive about 80,000 pieces of mail each day, did not get a single mail delivery on July 11, according to the lawsuit.

Some New York communities saw mail delivery skipped on at least three days in July and August; boxes of mail slated for delivery on Aug. 7 were still sitting in a Bronx postal facility a week later; and 173 Express Mail packages sent to the Buffalo area went undelivered from Aug. 10-12, the lawsuit said.

Beyond the potential impact on the election, James and members of the state’s Congressional delegation who joined her conference call expressed concerns about the mail slowdown harming everyday lives by hampering deliveries of vital medications, perishable goods and payments.

“Support for the Postal Service must be a nonpartisan issue, but this president knows no bounds and will use anything he can for his own reelection benefit,” Rep. Grace Meng, a Queens Democrat, said. “People need to be able to vote. Veterans need to be able to get their medication. Seniors and Americans deserve to get payments that they are waiting for by their mail.”

DeJoy told lawmakers on Monday that election mail is his “No. 1 priority,” saying he will authorize expanded overtime, extra truck trips and other measures in the weeks before the election to ensure on-time delivery of ballots.

DeJoy disputed reports that he eliminated overtime for postal workers and said a Postal Service document outlining overtime restrictions was written by a mid-level manager. Last week, DeJoy said he was halting some of his operational changes “to avoid even the appearance of impact on election mail.”

Still, DeJoy vehemently refused to restore decommissioned mail-sorting machines and blue collection boxes, saying they are not needed. He also said he would continue policies limiting when mail can go out as well as a halting of late delivery trips, which postal workers have said contributes to delays.

“I am not engaged in sabotaging the election,” DeJoy said.