- A federal judge criticized how the postal service has provided updates on mail-in ballots, and said he'll force US Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to explain himself in court.
- The comments came in a case where the NAACP and other civil rights groups have been trying to get the US postal service to deliver mail ballots in a timely manner.
- Judge Emmet Sullivan said the USPS hasn't communicated all of its actions in a timely manner.
- There's no question that the mail-in votes that have been cast are legitimate.
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A federal judge said he would force US Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to testify in court about how the US Postal Service handled the election, saying he'd depose him if necessary.
He made the comments in a hearing Wednesday afternoon, in a lawsuit brought over how the USPS has handled the 2020 election amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"The postmaster's going to have to be deposed or appear before me," Judge Emmet Sullivan said at the hearing.
Sullivan expressed fury at the USPS's performance, accusing them of slow-walking responses to his orders, and saying the agency has not effectively communicated with its own lawyers throughout the case.
He has asked Kevin Bray, the USPS official who oversees the mail-in ballot process for this year's election, to appear in court Wednesday afternoon. When Justice Department lawyer Joseph Evan Borson said he'd check with Bray's schedule to see what time he's available, Emmet cut him off.
"You will have to tell him when he's available," Emmet fumed. "It's up to the court when he's available."
Civil rights groups have been trying to ensure the USPS properly handles mail-in ballots
The lawsuit was first brought by the NAACP and a consortium of other civil rights groups in August.
They have sought rulings from Sullivan, a federal district judge in Washington, DC, to ensure the USPS handled mail-in ballots in a way that would ensure every vote cast by mail would arrive at ballot processing locations before state deadlines.
Every state has different rules for counting mail-in ballots. Some allow them to count as long as they were postmarked by Election Day. Others only count them as long as they arrive by Election Day. Mail delivery has slowed this year under DeJoy's watch.
The US has experienced a record number of mail-in ballots this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, and it is normal for states to continue counting them in the days and weeks ahead.
On Tuesday, Sullivan ordered the USPS to reexamine mailing locations in 15 states and ensure that any found ballots would be delivered before polls closed.
The postal service said it wouldn't comply with the order and instead keep its own schedule, which would finish its sweep by 8 p.m. Tuesday night. Sullivan asked for Wednesday's court hearing to grill the USPS on its non-compliance.
In a court filing Wednesday morning, the USPS provided an extensive data report showing that more than 300,000 mail-in ballots have not been fully traced. However, it cautioned that the figures, which Sullivan required, were not reliable. Michael Barber, a USPS operations manager, said in court that many postal service employees deliver ballots to election officials by hand. That method, he said, is faster than sending the ballots through the process that records those ballots in the service performance data.
Borson said the USPS will supply more complete data later Wednesday.
He also said the USPS ultimately completed its court-mandated sweep of the 220 mail processing locations that handle election mail and found only "12 or 13" ballots in the wrong place, all of which were delivered in time.
Throughout Wednesday's hearing, Sullivan and lawyers for the civil rights groups criticized the USPS for not effectively communicating with the Justice Department lawyers defending them in the case.
"It's your clients. Each and every one of them, starting at the top of the food chain," Sullivan said. "I don't want you to keep falling on the sword."
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