Federal judge “not pleased” after Postal Service failed to meet deadline on mail-in ballot order

A federal judge on Wednesday criticized the U.S. Postal Service for failing to comply with a deadline to sweep several facilities for missing mail-in ballots on Election Day. 

The order was meant to trigger sweeps of facilities in six key battleground states: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia, Texas, Arizona and Florida. Some of the 12 districts included in the order have legislation against accepting ballots after midnight on election night. 

U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, who issued the order, expressed disappointment with the Postal Service and attorneys for the government and said he would consider deposing Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on why the measures were not taken. 

“Now you can tell your clients this in no uncertain terms,” Sullivan said in a Wednesday hearing. “I am not pleased about this 11th-hour development last night. You can tell your clients that someone may have a price to pay for that.”

The sweeps were ordered to begin at 12 p.m. ET and be completed by 3 p.m. ET. Attorneys for the Justice Department, which is representing the Postal Service, said processing was previously scheduled to take place on Election Day from 4 to 8 p.m. — before most polls closed. The agency said it discovered 13 delayed ballots in two separate Pennsylvania facilities.

The lawsuit, brought forth by the NAACP, highlighted data from the Postal Service that stated over 300,000 mail-in ballots that were received but were unable to be traced to their destination. The agency said that data was unreliable, as several pre-existing election processes meant to aid ballots on their way prevented them from being processed as delivered. 

Joseph Borson, a lawyer from the Justice Department, apologized to the court for not setting realistic enough expectations on behalf of his client, also stating that the term “sweep” has several contexts within the Postal Service, which usually requires more manpower.

Sullivan, however, contested the claim on Wednesday. “Yesterday, it was the government’s job to tell me that I could make appropriate adjustments to the order,” Sullivan said. “Now it sounds like you didn’t know the timing of when they would be there.”

The presidential races in Pennsylvania and Texas are still too close to call. Sullivan on Wednesday filed a new order directing the Postal Service to speed up efforts to search for mail ballots left in Texas facilities. However, an email announcement about the order’s 5 p.m. deadline was sent until 3:15 p.m., giving officials under two hours to complete the sweep. 

The court is scheduled to hear testimony from Kevin Bray, who currently serves as the executive lead for mail processing in the 2020 elections. Bray is expected to answer questions about the sweep as well as the supposed 300,000 ballots that may still be in the system.

“This is the most important thing I am doing right now,” Sullivan said Wednesday. “Everyone, take a deep breath, OK. We’re going to get through this.”

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