As Postal Service Refuses to Describe Mail Delivery Changes in Washington, Officials Scramble to Protect Mail Ballots


OLYMPIA — With postal officials refusing to detail the extent of mail-processing and service reductions in Washington, state officials and others worry that restrictions on mail delivery could disenfranchise Washington voters in the fall election.

The U.S. Postal Service's silence about its changes to a delivery system crucial for Washington's vote-by-mail elections -- combined with U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy's remarks Friday that some service reductions would remain in place -- has left state officials scrambling to make sure the election can be properly conducted.

In a new legal motion filed Friday, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson cited the agency's refusal to share its plans in a request to expedite a federal court review of a legal challenge filed by Washington and 13 other states challenging the Trump administration's postal changes.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday against President Donald Trump and DeJoy, alleges the changes in recent months violated a federal law that lays out specific guidelines for taking such actions. The legal challenge also cites multiple tweets by Trump seeking to sow doubt about the security of mail ballots.

"As a result of the Postal Service's reticence, most of what is known about Defendants' actions has come from news reports and leaked documents," according to Friday's motion filed in the U.S. District Court of Eastern Washington.

Meanwhile, Gov. Jay Inslee is considering actions intended to make sure voters can receive and cast ballots in time for the November election.

The governor is considering additional funding for extra ballot drop boxes, as well as "a messaging campaign to encourage voters to return their ballots early and use ballot [drop] boxes," Inslee spokesperson Mike Faulk wrote in an email Friday.

"We are also looking at funding for counties to help with staffing, especially if election workers get sick with COVID," he added.

Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican, has said she is working alongside county auditors on an emergency administrative law to help make sure ballots sent to state residents this fall would be returned in time to count.

Even as Ferguson announced his lawsuit Tuesday, DeJoy released a statement saying he would suspend changes in mail service until after the election. Those changes include disabling mail-processing machines, shutting down outbound mail distribution in three of Washington's five facilities -- and limiting overtime for mail carriers.

Speaking before a U.S. Senate Committee Friday, DeJoy said he was "fully capable and committed to delivering the nation's election mail securely and on time," according to news reports.

But DeJoy also said he had no plans to restore some of agency cuts enacted since he took over in June -- including one that restricts late delivery trips by letter carriers.

Spokespeople for the U.S. Postal Service wouldn't provide The Seattle Times with details this week about what reductions will be rolled back in Washington and what will remain.

National spokesperson David Partenheimer declined to comment Friday. Regional spokesperson Ernie Swanson didn't respond to emails this week seeking details of changes in Washington.

Not only are postal officials not responding to media inquiries here, postal officials also aren't discussing their plans with Inslee's office or the state Office of Financial Management (OFM).

"We have not been in contact with USPS directly, but not for lack of effort," Faulk wrote. "Our office and OFM have reached out to them and have not heard back."

In an email Friday, a local postal-union official said that some mail-processing equipment has been brought back online in a Tacoma mail-distribution center, but the facility nonetheless has seen a net reduction in machines.

In that email, Don Cheney of the American Postal Workers Union Local 298 contended that some recent Postal Service briefings had reported a "a sharp drop in on-time performance for First-Class Mail, Marketing Mail and Periodicals."

"My own anecdotal observation is that First-Class mail has slowed down," wrote Cheney. "A First-Class Certified flat that I mailed in Tacoma on August 8th going to Florida took 9 days to arrive ... It was stuck in Seattle for 4 days!"

"The service standard for First-Class mail to Florida is 3 days ... which is what it used to take," added Cheney.

Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.