Michigan may sue feds over postal service delays, absentee ballot concerns

The Detroit postal district had the second-worst on-time scores in the country, and the scores for the district covering northern and west Michigan also lagged other states. (Shutterstock)

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration is exploring ways to sue the federal government over United States Postal Service delays that some say could impact the November election. 

“It’s safer to vote from home and it’s every American’s right and responsibility to exercise that right of voting,” the Democratic governor told MSNBC on Sunday evening. “So we’re going to do everything we can to protect that right and ensure that every ballot gets counted.”

The threat is the latest in a political fight over new cost-cutting rules from U.S. Postmaster Louis DeJoy. 

Democrats, who seek $3.5 billion more for the Postal Service as part of a COVID-19 relief package, accuse the Trump administration of slowing mail to give the Republican president an advantage in the November election. Trump opposes the increase and claimed last week that Democrats want a bailout “in order to have the Post Office work so it can take all of the millions and millions of ballots.”

Whitmer’s comments followed Michigan’s Aug. 4 primary election, when 6,405 mail-in ballots weren’t counted because they reached clerks after Election Day. USPS warned Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson late last month there was a “significant risk” the service won’t be able to deliver ballots to or from voters in time under state deadlines. 

Postal delays have been reported in several swing states, including Michigan, after a new delivery policy was implemented in July to cut costs. Union officials also have accused postal service officials of removing mail sorting machines in Pontiac and Detroit.

The changes are sparking concerns as the state increasingly turns to absentee voting in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. A record 1.6 million Michiganders voted by mail in the August election, beating out the former record of 1.27 million in the November 2016 election. 

Kelly Rossman-McKinney, spokesperson for Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, told Bridge the administration is in discussion with other states about a multi-state lawsuit to “ensure that the U.S. Postal Service is aggressive in its efforts to ensure that absentee ballots are delivered to local clerks offices in time to be counted.”

Rossman-McKinney declined to say what legal strategy the state would pursue to challenge the federal government on the issue, but “my guess would be any and all,” she said.

“The concerns are that serious. This election is of deep concern to both parties — the action that Michigan’s taking is not a partisan action,” Rossman-McKinney said, adding that further details on the potential lawsuit are expected later this week.

While clerks and others are reporting increased postal delays following the July policy change, an internal review from the Postal Service indicated postal districts in Michigan failed to reach delivery goals from April 1 and June 30. 

The Detroit postal district had the second-worst on-time scores in the country, and the scores for the district covering northern and west Michigan also lagged behind other states. 

While state elections officials and the USPS say election-related mail is prioritized and shouldn’t be affected by mail delays, local clerks reported significant delays in ballots reaching voters before the August election. 

In Michigan, mail-in ballots are only counted if they reach the clerk by Election Day, rather than if they are postmarked by Election Day such as in some other states. Benson’s office reported last week that more than 6,000 ballots were rejected because they reached clerks too late.

She called upon the Legislature to pass legislation that would allow ballots postmarked by Election Day to count. 

“With turnout and absentee ballot numbers expected to double or even triple in November, we could be looking at tens of thousands of Michigan citizens disenfranchised if the legislature again fails to act,” Benson said in a statement Friday.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, told WKHM radio in Jackson last week that he shares Benson’s concerns over mailing delays.  

“There’s a chronic problem across our nation in the Postal Service,” Shirkey said. “There are people now who refuse to mail things because they fear it getting lost or a delay in delivery and that’s a problem that the federal government needs to address promptly.”

Shirkey said he doesn’t think they’ve found a fix that “maintains the integrity of the process, but that’s something we can work on together.”

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Comments

Rose
Mon, 08/17/2020 - 4:46pm

Disrupting postal operations is a idiotic political strategy for a person whose base tends to be older. Older people are often on medications and must order them by mail. People have been FRANTIC sincee June because meds are either late or are not arriving at all. This is, literally, a life or death issue. Many older people pay bills by check. Bills are late in arriving and checks are late in being cashed causing late feels to be assessed. Older people who are observing safe and sane lockdown procedures are avoiding stores and ordering on line like never before. Those items are arriving late or not at all. Angering and harming your loyal base is political suicide.

Anonymous
Mon, 08/17/2020 - 7:10pm

THANK YOU!

middle of the mit
Mon, 08/17/2020 - 7:31pm

This is what this postal kerfuffle is all about:

https://politicalwire.com/2020/08/13/trump-admits-hes-trying-to-sabotage...

Said Trump: “The items are the post office and the $3.5 billion for mail-in voting. If we don’t make the deal, that means they can’t have the money, that means they can’t have universal mail-in voting. It just can’t happen.”

https://politicalwire.com/2020/08/13/trump-campaign-sues-two-iowa-counties/

“President Trump’s reelection campaign has sued two Democratic-leaning Iowa counties that are making it easy to vote by mail during the coronavirus pandemic, seeking to invalidate tens of thousands of voters’ absentee ballot applications,” the AP reports.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
https://politicalwire.com/2020/08/13/kudlow-says-voting-rights-part-of-l...

And does it make sense to toss out mail sorting equipment that can sort through over 40,000 piece per hour? Does that even sound like it would improve productivity? Let alone cut costs?

https://politicalwire.com/2020/08/13/the-post-office-is-deactivating-mai...

“In many cases, these are the same machines that would be tasked with sorting ballots, calling into question promises made by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy that the USPS has ‘ample capacity’ to handle the predicted surge in mail-in ballots.”
-------------------------------------------------------------------------

And all because of "voter fraud". And now a Trump appointed judge is asking Trumps lawyers this question.

https://politicalwire.com/2020/08/14/trump-appointed-judge-demands-evide...

Remember in November.

Lorraine
Tue, 08/18/2020 - 9:12am

So, yesterday I went to my mailbox and found the Costco flyer for a sale that started Aug 5. Should have arrived over two weeks ago. Thank goodness I always take my absentee ballot to Town Hall and drop it off there. 'It's in the mail' is now a real joke.

mw
Tue, 08/18/2020 - 9:38am

"Now, if we don't make a deal, that means they don't get the money. That means they can't have universal mail-in voting, they just can't have it." - Trump admitting that blocking Post Office funding is directly related to the election.

And remember what Trump said about absentee/mail-in voting back in April: "They had a level of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

And remember that Trump, Trump's family, and many members of the Trump administration vote absentee/mail-in.

And remember that 67% of Michigan voted for Proposal 3 in 2018 which, among other things, allows for no reason absentee voting.

EB
Tue, 08/18/2020 - 12:29pm

Effective gerrymandering has only happened twice in Michigan, 2001 and 2011. 2011 was the most effective effort, since a single party controlled the Michigan courts, governor office, secretary of state office, attorney general office and both state legislative houses. There were no checks and balances for the redistricting process in 2011. 2001 wasn't much better, but the attorney general that year was not from the dominant party.

Because of gerrymandering, our first democratically elected district legislators in 20 years won't be sworn into office until 2023. For nearly 20 years, our state legislature and federal House delegation has been illegitimate, radical and responsible for much of the hatred and division in Michigan.

This legislative district drawing fix is long overdue.

Mail in Fraud
Tue, 08/18/2020 - 2:00pm

Mail in voting is a process fraught with potential fraud. In Michigan we already have proof that mail in voting is not secure. Sherikia Hawkins (Democrat Southfield) was charged with six felony counts for altering absentee ballots. But Democrats still want as much mail in voting as possible? The only reason Democrats want more mail in voting is because it is easier to cheat. The Democrats party has a demonstrated history of cheating on mail in voting. The only way to have a fair and secure election is with in person voting, government issued photo ID, voter registration at least 90 days prior to an election.