US judge orders USPS to speed up election ballot delivery in Detroit

US General Election is November 3, 2020

A mail truck moves down a street Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020, in Fox Point, Wis. Facing public pressure and state lawsuits, the Postmaster general announced Tuesday he is halting some operational changes to mail delivery that critics warned were causing widespread delays and could disrupt voting in the November election. (AP Photo/Morry Gash) (Morry Gash, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

DETROIT – A U.S. district court judge has ordered the United States Postal Service (USPS) to speed up its delivery of ballots in Detroit in order to be counted in the presidential election.

According to a press release from Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office, Judge Stanley Bastian, for the Eastern District of Washington, issued the order Friday after a status conference with USPS and 13 plaintiff states, which included Michigan.

The order is effective Nov. 1 through Nov. 10, and was also issued for the Lakeland district in Wisconsin.

Michigan and Wisconsin are both considered “battleground states” in the November election.

Delivery of ballots in the USPS' Detroit district has dipped as low as 57% over the past week, Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office said Saturday. In fact, the USPS’ Detroit district is considered to have the slowest mail delivery in the nation, according to data released by the USPS.

The data shows that mail delivery in the Detroit region was about 15% slower than the national average during the first week of October. The national average mail delivery time has also dropped from 91% of on-time delivery to 86% in October. Officials said the agency’s goal is to deliver 95% of first class mail on time.

“The slowdown of mail delivery in our state -- especially in Detroit -- has had a dramatic negative impact on the timely delivery of absentee ballots," Nessel said in a press release Saturday. "This has been a serious impediment to voters who have made the effort to request, receive, vote and return their absentee ballots. The court’s order is an important step in righting this wrong but it is only a temporary fix to an ongoing problem.”

For the USPS facility and processing centers in Detroit, the order specifically reads:

  • If USPS identifies any incoming ballots in its “all clear” processes in these facilities from the date of this order through Election Day, it shall make every effort to deliver those ballots by 8 p.m. on Election Day as required by Michigan law, including by using Priority Mail Express and/or other extraordinary measures.
  • If USPS identifies any outgoing ballots in its “all clear” processes in these facilities between the date of this order and Nov. 1, it shall make every effort to deliver those ballots to voters on or before Nov. 2, including by using Priority Mail Express or other extraordinary measures.

The order also provides attorneys with the Michigan Department of Attorney General access to USPS facilities in order to monitor compliance with the court’s order.

USPS Spokesperson Dave Partenheimer told The Associated Press that Postal Service employees are authorized to use the Express Mail network to speed completed ballots to their intended destinations.

“We take our legal obligations very seriously and (are) complying with all court orders,” Partenheimer said. “The Postal Service continues to implement extraordinary measures across the country to advance and expedite the delivery of the nation’s ballots.”

They include extra pick-ups, extra deliveries, and collecting mail on Sunday, Partenheimer said.

Even amid the court order, Nessel is urging Michigan voters to return their ballots by hand this close to Election Day.

“At this point, you should not use the mail to deliver your absentee ballot because, even with this order, we simply cannot be assured it will get through the mail on time to be counted,” Nessel said. “Every Michigan voter should ensure their voice is heard and their ballot counts. Drop off your absentee ballot in person or go to the polls on Nov. 3.”

In August, Michigan joined other states in suing the USPS over service changes that allegedly caused delays in mail delivery, creating concern about the agency’s ability to deliver General Election ballots on time.

You can view the entire court order below.

RELATED: Local neighborhood sues USPS to switch to Ann Arbor zip code

About the Authors:

DeJanay Booth joined WDIV as a web producer in July 2020. She previously worked as a news reporter in New Mexico before moving back to Michigan.

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.