Local nonprofit files suit against United States Postal Service

United States Postal Services march on Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020, in Aspen. (Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Glenwood Springs-based Voces Unidas, along with four other plaintiffs, filed a lawsuit Friday in United States District Court that challenges recent changes at the U.S. Postal Service that they claim are creating mail delays and threatening the ability of voters to have their ballots counted in the Nov. 3 election.

Latino-led nonprofit Voces Unidas is asking the court to reverse policies set by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, which have slowed down the delivery of mail by as long as three days.

President Donald Trump has supported DeJoy’s policies to remove sorting machines, eliminate “extra and late trips” and reducing “unnecessary” and “unauthorized” overtime, according to the complaint filed by San Francisco-based law firm Covington & Burling LLP on behalf of the plaintiffs.

“We are a civic engagement organization and are fighting for the right for Latinos to vote,” Alex Sanchez, managing director of Voces Unidas, said Friday. “Political interference is eroding the system we are trying to protect, … and these delays are undermining the public’s trust in the postal service.”

Latinos represent 30% of the population in Garfield and Eagle counties and 10% of the population in Pitkin County. That represents about 9,000 registered Latino voters in the tri-county region, according to Sanchez.

Much of that population also lives in rural areas, where they rely heavily on the USPS on a daily basis, as well as to vote.

Voces Unidas, whose mission is to elevate the voices of Latinos in the region, has joined the lawsuit with two other Colorado-based Latino organizations, with support from the National Redistricting Foundation.

Sanchez pointed out that the intentional delay of the mail is a form of voter suppression and unconstitutional political interference in elections that are being capitalized on during a coronavirus pandemic.

“We have to do extra work and spend extra money to help a population that is already disenfranchised,” he said, adding that it’s safer to vote by mail than in person due to the spread of the virus. “But this lawsuit helps all Americans to fight for the right to vote.”

According to the lawsuit, “experts conservatively predict roughly 80 million mail ballots will be submitted this fall, more than double the number (of mail ballots) that were returned in 2016 … some states anticipate 10 times the normal volume of election mail.”

Colorado will conduct this fall’s election entirely by mail, which requires voters to their have ballots to clerk and recorder offices on or before Election Day.

“A simple example highlights the risks associated with this delay,” reads the complaint. “Assume … that a voter in Colorado … submits her completed ballot by first-class mail, which in the ordinary course could be delivered in two days. The additional three-day delay engendered by Defendants’ policies, however, would preclude voters from voting by mail on the Saturday before the election. Put another way, completed ballots mailed on October 31, or later, would not be received by the local election office by Election Day — thus rendering any such completed ballot invalid.”

Currently, 29 states have receipt-by-Election Day deadlines. Even if a returned ballot is postmarked on or before Election Day, it will not be counted unless election officials receive it on Election Day, according to the complaint.

At least 83% of eligible voters — approximately 190 million people — will have the opportunity to vote by mail-in absentee ballot in the election, the complaint states.

Also alleged is that the number of sorting machines USPS has removed or decommissioned amounts to a 260% increase in the rate of machines decommissioned in 2019.

That’s problematic because those removals will lead to delays in postmarking and the delivery of ballots due to the increased load on the few remaining sorting machines.

“This will significantly burden the right to vote in light of Colorado’s all-mail elections,” the complaint states.

The group also is asking the court to appoint an independent monitor to oversee the postal service in the coming months before people start casting ballots.

“We need to step in fast and get an injunction,” Sanchez said, noting that ballots drop in the mail Oct. 9.