NAACP v. USPS

Date Filed: 08/20/2020

On August 20 2020,  the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) and Public Citizen filed a lawsuit on behalf of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) against the United States Postal Service (USPS). Our suit, which was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, argues that recent changes by USPS were implemented in violation of federal law and have led to widespread disruptions in mail delivery that risk delaying the delivery of mail-in ballots — thereby causing voter disenfranchisement — for the November 2020 election. The NAACP, the nation’s largest and oldest civil rights grassroots organization, and its members rely on the timely delivery of the mail for a variety of important functions, including mail-in voting. 

Reliable mail service is a basic public good and an essential part of American democracy. And, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, mail-in voting is more important than ever, as it allows for voters to maintain social distancing while casting secure ballots. Indeed, historic levels of mail-in voting are expected for the November 2020 election, for which over three-quarters of Americans will be eligible to request a ballot by mail. 

Read the complaint here

USPS Historical Context

  • The United States Postal Service (USPS) handles half the world’s mail, keeping families and friends connected. It serves as the backbone for small business owners to quickly deliver their products to customers, and it provides medical supplies to countless Americans.
  • The USPS is on the frontlines. All throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, postal workers have shown how essential they are by continuing to provide a critical public service despite risks to their own lives. Well over a thousand postal workers have contracted COVID-19 due to a lack of PPE.
  • The Postal Service is also an economic engine. USPS employees make up one quarter of the federal workforce – 40% of whom are people of color.

LDF President and Director Counsel joins the Reid Out to discuss protecting the USPS, mail-in voting and the 2020 election.

Timeline of USPS Service Changes and Related Actions

July 2020

Shortly after Louis DeJoy was appointed Postmaster General, USPS imposed changes in its mail delivery policies without going through the procedures required by federal law designed to ensure an opportunity for accountability and public comment. These changes led to widespread delays in mail delivery across much of the nation at the very moment when timely mail delivery mattered most: a global pandemic where people rely on the mail for everything from prescription drugs to voting (client testimony 1client testimony 2).

August 2020

Led by Director of Litigation Sam Spital, LDF partnered with Public Citizen filed suit on behalf of the NAACP – a separate organization from LDF – to reverse the policies that led to such widespread delays, and to ensure that ballots would be delivered in a timely manner.

October/November 2020

The Court granted a preliminary injunction in our favor in October, and it and other courts entered similar injunctions in several other cases, including cases filed by states. The USPS did not immediately comply, however, and substantial mail delays have persisted. As a result, we filed a motion to enforce the Court’s prior injunction in late October. This has led to enforcement proceedings where the Court has entered orders requiring USPS to implement measures to ensure that ballots are delivered in a timely manner, and to provide the court with data about the status of its efforts.

For example, shortly before Election Day, the Court ordered USPS to use the Express Mail network to expedite ballots out of local service area, and to clear and process all ballots with a local destination on the same day or no later than the next morning.

On November 4, the day mail-in ballots were due to elections offices in Texas, the Court ordered USPS to take additional steps to ensure ballots sent on Election Day or earlier were not left behind in Texas facilities. In response, USPS identified and delivered 815 ballots in the state.

Since November 4, we have focused on delivery of ballots in states that have upcoming deadlines for receiving ballots postmarked by Election Day, such as North Carolina and Pennsylvania. The Court has required twice daily sweeps for ballots in mail processing facilities in those states, with reports to be filed in the court documenting the results.

The data maintained and reported by USPS has limitations and must be interpreted with caution. It is primarily useful in helping identify USPS districts that have had slower delivery times, which led LDF to request additional measures in those districts to ensure the timely delivery of ballots.

It is important to note what we learned from USPS on November 5 as it relates to the more than 100,000 ballots delivered to elections officials the previous day. The vast majority of those ballots were delivered in a timely manner, and in states where they can still be counted because of extended receipt deadlines.

On November 6, the Court ordered plant and district managers jointly overseeing processing facilities in Alaska, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Mississippi, North Dakota, Ohio, and West Virginia to coordinate with all local Boards of Elections to deliver all ballots before the relevant extended state ballot receipt deadline.

Like poll workers and vote counters, the rank and file postal workers have gone all out throughout this process to ensure the functioning of our democracy. The USPS staff have taken the Court’s orders and this litigation seriously. They are not responsible for ordering the changes that created these delays. Rather, the directives that have caused the delays and other problems that LDF is challenging were made by USPS leadership.

LDF is fighting for the delivery of every ballot. People who voted by mail – to protect themselves from COVID-19 exposure in particular – deserve to know their ballot was delivered. It is a public trust that must not be betrayed.

LDF has participated in daily court hearings on this matter leading up to, during, and following Election Day, and is continuing to litigate this case at present.

UPDATE: On December 23, LDF filed an agreement with the Court requiring the USPS to implement key measures that will prioritize and expedite the delivery of ballots for the January 5, 2021, Georgia Runoff Election. Among a variety of measures, the agreement requires the USPS to continue to use Express Mail to deliver ballots in certain circumstances and conduct daily sweeps of processing facilities in the week before the election to ensure no ballots are left behind.

This blog will be updated with information concerning case developments. For media inquiries, please contact media@naacpldf.org.

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