As the aftermath of Election Day grows increasingly contentious and chaotic, a federal judge castigated lawyers for the U.S. Postal Service on Wednesday for seemingly disregarding his order that the agency sweep mail processing facilities in over a dozen states for missing ballots.
The clash between courts and the USPS comes after the postal agency’s own data showed that over 300,000 mail-in ballots were not fully traced, reports the Washington Post.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan expressed irritation as he said he would force Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to appear in court to testify about how the USPS handled the election, saying that he would depose the Trump-appointed former businessman who has overseen the agency since May.
“The postmaster’s going to have to be deposed or appear before me,” Judge Sullivan said.
The federal judge angrily added that he was “shocked” to find out that USPS facilities in 12 postal districts – including key battleground states Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin – had simply not searched for ballots, as they were ordered to do on Election Day. The apparent shrugging off of the order has left authorities clueless about the whether all ballots had been delivered.
“It leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth for the clock to run out – game over,” Sullivan heatedly told lawyers for the government in an urgently convened Washington hearing. “I’m not going to forget it, either.”
Sullivan adjourned the meeting after ordering Kevin Bray, the main Postal Service official charged with overseeing the processing of election mail, to appear in court later on Wednesday afternoon.
When Justice Department attorney Evan Borson said he would inquire with Bray over whether he had time in his schedule to appear before the court, he was met with a brusque response from the visibly annoyed judge.
“You will have to tell him when he’s available,” Sullivan said. “It’s up to the court when he’s available.”
The development underscores the chaotic nature of the U.S. electoral process in 2020, which has been marked by accusations of fraud and malfeasance in hotly-contested presidential, senatorial and congressional races across the country.
A number of civil rights groups including the NAACP have sued to ensure that the USPS properly handles mail-in voting, which has exponentially increased amid anxieties over the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. President Trump and his reelection campaign have repeatedly cast aspersion on mail-in voting, baselessly claiming that it can be a vehicle for fraud in the election.
The consortium of civil rights groups have looked to Sullivan, a federal district judge based in Washington, DC, to provide rulings that would ensure that the Postal Service handle ballots from all states in such a manner that would meet state deadlines for ballot processing.
However, states have varying rules for counting ballots that have been mailed in, with some states counting them as long as they were postmarked by Election Day and others only counting those that arrive by Election Day.
Mail delivery has grown far slower since DeJoy was appointed to oversee the agency.
On Wednesday, Judge Sullivan and the lawyers representing the civil rights groups accused the Postal Service of failing to effectively communicate with their own defense attorneys from the Justice Department.
“It’s your clients, each and every one of them, starting at the top of the food chain,” Sullivan advised. “I don’t want you to keep falling on the sword.”
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