MIAMI — A federal judge in Washington, D.C., issued an extraordinary Election Day order shortly after noon Tuesday, commanding the U.S. Postal Service to sweep mail processing facilities for undelivered ballots in a dozen postal districts nationwide, including South Florida.
Judge Emmet G. Sullivan ordered the agency to “ensure that no ballots have been held up and that any identified ballots are immediately sent out for delivery.” He ordered sweeps of mail facilities between 12:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. and requested a status update by 4:30.
The order came after the Postal Service filed data in court Tuesday that showed about 300,000 ballots nationwide that haven’t been scanned to confirm they were delivered, even though USPS says they were processed.
USPS also shared data that revealed low on-time delivery scores of completed ballots, including about 74% in South Florida.
“No later than 4:30 PM EST today, Defendants shall file a status update certifying compliance with this paragraph upon confirming, in the most efficient manner available, that sweeps were conducted and that no ballots were left behind,” Sullivan wrote in his order.
Florida law requires mail ballots to be received by county elections officials by 7 p.m. on Election Day.
The order does not apply to individual post offices like the one in South Miami-Dade County where 62 unprocessed ballots were found this weekend. The USPS has previously been ordered to conduct measures to ensure ballots are collected at individual post office locations.
“Today’s order was targeted at a particular concern that USPS' own data showed,” said Sam Spital, an attorney representing the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, one of the plaintiffs in the case. “We’re hopeful that the series of measures the courts have implemented over the past week ensure every ballot gets counted.”
South Florida processing facilities include the Miami International Service Center, the Miami Processing and Distribution Center, the Royal Palm Processing and Distribution Center in Opa-locka, and the West Palm Beach Processing and Distribution Center.
Other districts where Sullivan ordered sweeps are Central Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Detroit, Colorado/Wyoming, Atlanta, Houston, Alabama, Northern New England, Greater South Carolina, Lakeland (Wisconsin and Northern Illinois) and Arizona.
All of those districts, except Arizona, are ones “where processing scores have been below — in many cases well below — the expected minimum,” attorneys for the plaintiffs wrote Tuesday.
The judge said either inspectors from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service or officials from the USPS Office of Inspector General could conduct the sweeps Tuesday. Representatives for USPS and the inspector general’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment on how they planned to approach it in South Florida.
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Sullivan also ordered USPS to reveal a list of 27 mail processing centers nationwide where the inspector general’s office has conducted visits since Oct. 19.
Investigators revealed Monday that they found a backlog of 180,000 pieces of mail at the Princeton Post Office in South Miami-Dade County and discovered 62 undelivered ballots. On Tuesday morning, attorneys for USPS said postal workers had finished sorting through the backlog.
Scott Pierce, the Special Agent in Charge for the USPS Inspector General’s Southern Area Field Office, told the Herald on Sunday that his team planned to sweep “several” other mail facilities in Miami-Dade County to search for undelivered ballots before Election Day, but he didn’t disclose how many facilities or which ones would be searched. On Monday, Pierce said investigators had “not found anything major at this point” at other facilities.
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