(CNN) — A federal judge on Sunday ordered the United States Postal Service to mandate some of the “extraordinary measures” the agency announced earlier this week to address the slow down of ballot processing in key states.
The order from federal Judge Emmet Sullivan, which comes just two days before Election Day, requires USPS to utilize the Express Mail network — which guarantees delivery in one to two days — for all ballots that are traveling longer distances, even after Election Day.
And ballots that stay local are required to be processed and delivered to local post offices on the same day they arrive, or the next morning at the latest.
The order comes as the Postal Service’s delivery performance in the days before the presidential election has become a major point of contention — especially in the battleground states where thousands of voters are mailing ballots instead of visiting polling places in person because of the coronavirus pandemic — and Democratic state leaders and other voting access groups have pushed for judicial oversight of the agency’s work.
As part of the order, USPS must send a memo by 9 p.m., local time, Sunday evening to processing plant managers and division directors saying the extraordinary measures “must be put in place to ensure we delivery every ballot possible by the cutoff time on Election Day.”
In addition to the USPS’ daily sweeps for election mail, USPS processing plant managers must also certify that all local ballots have been sent to the local election or post office by 10 a.m., local time, on Monday and Tuesday. Those plant managers also have to certify they are utilizing the Express Mail network for ballots and that they are quickly delivering local ballots.
In New Jersey and three key states in the election — Minnesota, North Carolina and Pennsylvania — USPS must issue “targeted written communication, and make all reasonable efforts to orally convey” to plant managers and division directors that ballots should be processed prior to the deadline in which they need to arrive at election offices on Election Day.
USPS must also attempt to “convey orally” the mandate to managers and supervisors in underperforming districts, including in states that could be key in the presidential election, like North Carolina, Texas, Pennsylvania and Michigan.
And by 9 a.m., local time, on Monday, USPS is required to send a memo to every local post office reiterating that they must postmark all ballots they receive. Properly postmarked ballots are important because some states allow for pre-Election Day postmarked ballots to arrive after Election Day.
The targeted requirements come as new court filings show that, for the third day in a row, the US Postal Service moved fewer ballots on-time in critical battleground states than it did in the previous day.
In a document filed in US District Court Sunday, USPS said that on a national level, they moved fewer ballots on time on Saturday than on Friday and their processing score dropping from 93% to 91%. Scores have been steadily declining since Wednesday, when USPS reported they moved 97% of ballots on time.
More critical battlegrounds states are now experiencing a drop in scores — below 90% — and those already below that did not improve substantially and some dropped even lower.