Sept. 21 (UPI) -- A federal judge ruled Monday that the U.S. Postal Service must give election mail first-class preference and make other changes to compensate for "managerial failures" that risk the security of mail-in voting.
U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero in the Southern District of New York became the second federal judge to rule against the USPS in a week.
On Thursday, a Washington-based federal judge placed a temporary block on operational changes that caused a slowdown in mail delivery in a lawsuit brought by attorneys general in 13 states.
Marrero approved a partial injunction ordering that all election mail shall be treated by the U.S. Postal Service as first-class or priority mail express. All overtime will be approved in the two weeks before election day to make sure absentee and mail-in ballots are counted, the ruling said.
These changes are to go into effect on Friday, when a settlement between the plaintiffs and the USPS must be hammered out, Marrero said. If both parties don't reach a settlement by the deadline, the changes will become law by judicial order, he said.
"Now, more than ever, the postal service's status as a symbol of national unity must be validated by the demonstrated degree of its commitment to utmost effectiveness of election mail service," Marrero said.
"The right to vote is too vital a value in our democracy to be left in a state of suspense in the minds of voters weeks before a presidential election, raising doubts as to whether their votes will ultimately be counted."
U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy instituted policies that Marrero said were meant to "rechannel the USPS's mission to follow the business model of a private enterprise."
These operational changes included reducing overtime pay; eliminating mail-sorting machines in dense population areas and directing mail trucks to leave as scheduled, even if it would entail leaving mail behind for delivery on another day. In August, the USPS agreed to suspend changes until after the election.
Marrero called the changes a series of "multiple managerial failures [that] have undermined the postal employees' ability to fulfill their vital mission."
The judge also ruled that the post office shall submit to the court a list of all steps necessary to restore first-class and marketing mail on-time delivery scores to their previous levels above 93% and make a good-faith effort to follow those steps.
Because of the public health threats from COVID-19 to in-person voting, at least 22 states and the District of Columbia have changed laws to encourage voters to cast their ballots by mail and 34 states already permitted anyone to vote by mail. Only five states require an excuse (beyond COVID-19 health concerns) to vote by mail.
A federal judge also temporarily blocked the postal service from sending incorrect voter mailers in Colorado with information that implies voters need to request mail-in ballots 15 days before the election, when voters are automatically sent ballots.