21 attorneys general say election mail at risk if USPS slows mail standards

Attorneys general from 20 states and the District of Columbia, along with attorneys representing two major cities, are telling regulators that the Postal Service should abandon plans that would slow the delivery of nearly 40% of first-class mail. 

The states, along with the cities of New York and San Francisco, warn the USPS plan “sacrifices speed for reliability” and would slow delivery times for in-state mail, including election mail, in most states.

Many of the states joined lawsuits last year challenging USPS operational changes in the months leading up to the 2020 election, including plans to reduce late and extra trucking trips between processing plants and post offices.

Four federal judges, over the course of those lawsuits, filed injunctions preventing USPS from implementing these changes. 

“Regrettably, it appears that the Postal Service is poised to repeat many of these mistakes,” state and city attorneys wrote in a filing to the Postal Regulatory Commission. 

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, in a press release, said the proposed changes would harm businesses in his state, make it harder for state residents to pay bills and slow the delivery of prescription drugs.

“Postmaster General [Louis] DeJoy has repeatedly failed to uphold his responsibility to preserve the Postal Service, which is the definition of an essential service for Americans,” Stein said. 

Stein filed comments to the PRC along with attorneys general for Pennsylvania, New York, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, and Virginia. 

The proposed comments have also drawn scrutiny from several nonprofits who also filed a lawsuit against USPS last year. Public Citizen, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and its Legal Defense Fund filed a joint comment Tuesday challenging the Postal Service’s ability to deliver election mail on time with these new service standards.

“Millions of voters rely on mail to exercise their right to vote. Slowing mail delivery poses risk that significant numbers of ballots might not be delivered in time to be counted. It should go without saying that prompt mail delivery is critical to the timely receipt of ballots,” Sam Spital, NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s director of litigation, said in a statement.

USPS, under its new service standards, would move more than 30% of first-class mail to four-or-five day delivery. The agency, under its current standards, targets one-to-three day delivery for first-class mail. USPS handled more than 52 billion pieces of first-class mail last year.

The states say the proposed changes would have a “detrimental impact on residents who rely on the Postal Service to pay bills, receive paychecks and public benefits, and vote.” Those changes, they argue, would especially hurt rural and low-income residents with few alternatives from USPS delivery. 

USPS officials have told the PRC the new service standards would reduce costs by shifting more mail volume away from air transportation contractors, which have limited schedules and limited capacity to deliver mail.

USPS officials told the commission the service standards would impact less than 4% of election mail, but told regulators it hasn’t studied the impact these changes would have on overseas voters or military personnel stationed away from their voting residence. 

The attorneys general argue the PRC should, in its forthcoming advisory opinion, urge USPS not to lower its service standards, and instead focus on addressing the root cause of persistent mail delays. 

“Only once the Postal Service has shown that it can reliably meet its performance targets should it consider whether it is necessary to change its service standards to address long-term trends in the utilization of its products,” the states argue.

The PRC is in the final stretch of drafting an advisory opinion on the new service standards, but the commission’s opinion isn’t binding, and USPS is free to implement the slower service standards, even if the PRC doesn’t issue a favorable opinion.

Slower mail delivery, states argue, would also impact the delivery of critical government documents such as birth certificates, marriage records and death records — as well as issuing driver’s licenses and passports. 

The attorneys general say USPS under this proposal would prioritize services that compete with the private sector, rather than focus on its monopoly mail business.

“While the Postal Service suggests that this shift in priorities is a necessary response to the long-term decline in the volume of letter mail, it will inevitably serve as a cause of further decline. Customers with the ability to pay more will opt for other services, including the Postal Service’s own competitive products, rather than waiting 4 or 5 days for a service that used to take 2 or 3,” the attorneys general wrote. 

USPS last modified its service standards in 2012, as part of a broader network rationalization initiative to consolidate processing and transportation networks. USPS, as part of its 10-year plan, is planning to resume its network consolidation by consolidating 18 processing plants

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