Connecticut is set to join at least 13 other states in a lawsuit against the Trump Administration over concerns over Postal Service delivery delays and service changes. Concerns have mounted in recent weeks among state and federal lawmakers that the new policies could impact the delivery of ballots for the November election.
The crisis at the Postal Service has erupted as a major election year issue as Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, an ally of President Trump who took control of the agency in June, has swiftly engineered cuts and operational changes that are disrupting mail delivery operations and raising alarms among workers.
In Connecticut, mail processing centers will lose 18 high-speed mail processing machines, which can sort upwards of 30,000 letters per hour, according to the Connecticut Attorney General's office.
"Mail is backing up in post offices all over the state because of corrosive and counterproductive new policies imposed in the runup to the national election by the new Trump loyalist Postmaster General," Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said in a statement. "Mail sorting machinery is being removed from Connecticut processing facilities, forcing postal workers to sort mail by hand. Packages are prioritized over letters – including ballots – while postal workers are denied the overtime they need to sort and deliver mail. The President greatly misjudged the anger his unlawful policies would unleash across this country.
On Tuesday afternoon, Conn. Gov. Ned Lamont released a statement about the state joining the multi-state lawsuit saying in part:
“I applaud Attorney General Tong for joining this critical multi-state and taking action today to not only protect the health of our state’s citizens but our democracy, as well. During this pandemic, no one should be forced to choose between their health and their right to vote. Leading with public health and the welfare of residents, I granted additional access to the ballot via executive order – access that depends on the hardworking members of our U.S. Postal Service," Lamont said.
"Not only will mail-in ballots help to reduce and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 when Connecticut residents cast their ballots, but countless others – veterans, seniors, businesses and single parents – are counting on medicine, child support payments, and the ability to facility commerce through shipments from the postal service," Lamont added.
"This issue goes beyond democracy and hits at the root of fairness and equity. Not everyone can make it to a municipal drop box to ensure their vote counts, but with the help of the postal service we can ensure every voter can has the ability to safely have their vote counted and voice heard," Lamont said.
Trump made clear last week that he was blocking $25 billion emergency aid to the Postal Service, acknowledging he wanted to curtail election mail operations, as well as a Democratic proposal to provide $3.6 billion in additional election money to the states to help process an expected surge of mail-in ballots.
Tong said his office has received complaints from residents seeing delays in absentee ballots, prescriptions, rent checks, child support, and disability and worker's compensation payments. Postal service employees have also reached out to the Attorney General's office to express concern over things like limitations on overtime.
Mail-in ballots for the August primary election were delayed in Connecticut in some cases, according to Tong's office and some voters have reported ballots postmarked a week to 10 days prior to the election not showing up on time.
Congress is not in session but Speaker Nancy Pelosi is calling the House back to Washington over the crisis at the Postal Service, setting up a political showdown amid growing concerns that the Trump White House is trying to undermine the agency ahead of the election.
The House is expected to vote Saturday on legislation that would prohibit changes at the agency. The package will also include $25 billion to shore up the Postal Service, which faces continued financial losses.
DeJoy and the head of the Postal Service board of governors are also set to testify Monday in the House.
The Postal Service is among the nation’s oldest and more popular institutions, strained in recent yearsby declines first-class and business mail, but now hit with new challenges during the coronavirus pandemic. Trump routinely criticizes its business model, but the financial outlook is far more complex, and includes an unusual requirement to pre-fund retiree health benefits that advocates in Congress want to undo.
The state's lawsuit aims to "assert that the Postal Service implemented these drastic changes to mail service nationwide unlawfully, and seeks to immediately halt the agency's actions," according to a release from the attorney general's office.
“We will ask the court to block these destructive new policies and fully and immediately restore the postal service, so that Americans can cast their ballots with confidence this November and know their votes will be counted," said Tong.
Ahead of the election, DeJoy, a former supply-chain CEO who took over the Postal Service in June, has sparked nationwide outcry over delays, new prices and cutbacks just as millions of Americans will be trying to vote by mail and polling places during the COVID-19 crisis.
Trump has defended DeJoy, but also criticized postal operations and claimed that universal mail-in ballots would be “a disaster.”
At the White House, Trump leveled fresh assaults Tuesday on mail-in voting and universal ballots. More Americans than ever are expected to choose to vote absentee this year instead of risking health concerns by voting at polling places during the coronavirus outbreak.
“You can’t have millions and millions of ballots sent all over the place, sent to people that are dead, sent to dogs, cats, sent everywhere,” Trump told reporters.
"This isn’t games and you have to get it right,” Trump said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who sent senators home for a summer recess, distanced himself Monday from Trump's complaints about mail operations. But the Republican leader also declined to recall senators to Washington, vowing the Postal Service “is going to be just fine.”
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and other Democrats, meanwhile, urged the postal board to use authority under a 1970 law to reverse operational changes put in place last month by DeJoy. If he declines to cooperate, "you have the authority, under the Postal Reorganization Act, to remove the postmaster general,'' the senators said in a letter to board members.
The Postal Service said it has stopped removing mailboxes and mail-sorting machines following complaints from lawmakers and customers. It said it would stop removing its distinctive blue mailboxes through mid-November.
The legislation set for Saturday's vote, the “Delivering for America Act,” would prohibit the Postal Service from implementing any changes to operations or level of service it had in place on Jan. 1. The package would include the $25 billion approved as part of the COVID-19 rescue that is stalled in the Senate.
DeJoy, the first postmaster general in nearly two decades who was not a career postal employee, has pledged to modernize the money-losing agency to make it more efficient. He eliminated most overtime for postal workers, imposed restrictions on transportation and reduced of the quantity and use of mail-processing equipment.
The lawsuit is being led by the attorney general of Washington state and will also include Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin.