Judge Emmett Sullivan setting up an immediate sweep of the Post Offices for missing 300,000 ballots. He’s been such a force for good this one.
A Federal District Court judge on Tuesday ordered an immediate sweep of 12 postal districts searching for undelivered ballots after the Postal Service said in court that some 300,000 ballots it had received had not been scanned for delivery.
The dramatic Election Day order came as record numbers of Americans have voted by mail this year, as many voters were anxious to avoid crowds at the polls during the pandemic — and at the end of a campaign season in which fears that recent Postal Service changes had caused extensive mail delays that could imperil ballots.
The judge, Emmet G. Sullivan of the District of Columbia, ordered the sweep to begin before 3 p.m. to “ensure that no ballots have been held up and that any identified ballots are immediately sent out for delivery.” He said he was particularly concerned about ballot delivery in districts where there has been slow processing of ballots for days, including Central Pennsylvania, Philadelphia and Detroit.
He ordered the Postal Service to provide him with an update on the sweep by 4:30 p.m. certifying that “sweeps were conducted and that no ballots were left behind.”
Roughly 300,000 ballots that the U.S. Postal Service says it processed show no scan confirming their delivery to ballot-counting sites, according to data filed today in federal court in Washington, D.C., leaving voter-rights advocates concerned as low on-time delivery scores for mail ballots continue to plague some key swing districts.
Postal officials say just because a ballot never received a final scan before going out for delivery doesn’t mean, necessarily, that it wasn’t delivered. A machine scanning ballots for final processing can sometimes miss ballots that are stuck together or whose bar codes are smudged. And hand-sorted ballots typically do not receive a final scan before delivery.
The Postal Service has also authorized expedited delivery of ballots that forego the normal process, but voting-rights advocates are concerned that, without a scan verifying the ballots went out for delivery, some could be sitting uncounted at various postal facilities around the country.
Data the Postal Service filed on Election Day showed continued low on-time processing scores for ballots delivered Monday in several battleground postal districts, including 69 percent in Central Pennsylvania, 79 percent in Philadelphia, 78 percent in Detroit, 61 percent in Atlanta and 74 percent in South Florida.
All states require that mail ballots be postmarked by Election Day in order to count, but some allow a grace period for the ballots to arrive in the hands of elections officials. Pennsylvania, for instance, has a three-day window to receive ballots as long as they are postmarked by Nov. 3, but that is the subject of litigation.
The ballots in question should have been postmarked upon entering a postal facility, but the sweep will help determine whether any fell through the cracks, according to Shankar Duraiswamy, the lead attorney for the nonprofit coalition Vote Forward, which is suing the Postal Service to try to ensure all ballots are delivered.
He asked for an order from Judge Sullivan requiring the Postal Service to verify by 3 p.m. that an inspector has visited facilities at all “hot spot” jurisdictions to “ensure that no ballots remain in the facility and that all ballots that were there earlier today are out for delivery this afternoon.”
Mr. Duraiswamy said the order focuses on states that don’t have a statutory grace period for receiving ballots after Election Day. “No voter should be disenfranchised for something that is outside of his or her control,” he said. “These are districts we’ve identified as chronically underperforming.”
Judge Sullivan ordered the Postal Service on Friday to undertake “extraordinary measures” to deliver the ballots in 22 districts where on-time delivery of ballots dipped below a rate of 90 percent for two days last week.