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USPS 2020 Election Mail Plans

Overview

Protect Democracy launched a set of initiatives to safeguard the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) from political manipulation in an effort to protect vote by mail in the 2020 election.

Those efforts included:

USPS Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests: We submitted two FOIA requests to USPS related to the agency’s preparations for the anticipated surge in voting by mail in the 2020 general election. In particular, the requests sought the following information:

  • Current and recent USPS planning documents that govern their outreach to state and county election officials and political parties;
  • Any records relating to communications with election-related vendors;
  • Any records regarding policies, practices, and procedures for delivering election mail, including ballots mailed without postage;
  • Any records regarding the training of USPS employees to deliver election mail;
  • Any records regarding the USPS’s performance in the primary elections; and
  • Any records of communications between USPS leadership and employees of the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Justice, and the Office of Management and Budget.

USPS FOIA Litigation: After USPS failed to respond to our FOIA requests, we filed a complaint and moved for a preliminary injunction in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to enforce our requests. Documents produced in that litigation informed The New York Times’s pre-election coverage of the Postal Service.

Department of Justice (DOJ) FOIA request: We submitted a FOIA request seeking any and all communications with individuals in the United States Postal Inspection Service (“USPIS”) regarding participation in any DOJ voting or voting fraud task force. The request relates to potential political interference by DOJ with USPS’s preparations for processing the anticipated surge in voting by mail in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

DOJ FOIA Litigation: After DOJ failed to respond to our FOIA request, we filed suit, and moved for and won a preliminary injunction in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to enforce our request.

Read through each section for details.

FOIA Requests

On June 22 and 23, 2020, Protect Democracy filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the United States Postal Service (USPS) regarding their planning and preparations for an expected dramatic increase in absentee voting by mail.

With the general election just over four months away from the June FOIA filings – and early voting starting weeks earlier in some states – preparations for the vote-by-mail surge must happen now. The public urgently needs to know whether the USPS is on track to carry out its role in enabling a free and fair election to proceed in November.

The USPS’s ability to fulfill its crucial mandate is threatened by President Trump’s baseless claims that voting by mail is “corrupt” and “ripe for fraud.” The newly appointed Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, is a top donor to the President and the Republican National Committee who has no prior experience working at the USPS.

Protect Democracy requested several documents, including:

  • Current and recent USPS planning documents that govern their outreach to state and county election officials and political parties;
  • Any records relating to communications with election-related vendors;
  • Any records regarding policies, practices, and procedures for delivering election mail, including ballots mailed without postage;
  • Any records regarding the training of USPS employees to deliver election mail;
  • Any records regarding the USPS’s performance in the primary elections; and
  • Any records of communications between USPS leadership and employees of the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Justice, and the Office of Management and Budget.

The requests sought expedited processing, citing the proximity to Election Day and the importance of the successful execution of voting by mail to our democracy. However, after USPS failed to respond to our FOIA requests, we filed a complaint and motion for preliminary injunction on August 12, 2020 in the Federal District Court for the District of DC. More information on the FOIA litigation can be found in the following tab, linked here.

“Free and fair elections are the bedrock of our democracy, and they cannot occur without the USPS playing its vital role,” said John Paredes, Counsel at Protect Democracy. “The documents we requested can help provide insight as to whether the USPS is fulfilling its duty to the American people.”

FOIA Litigation

On August 12, 2020, Protect Democracy filed a complaint and a motion for a preliminary injunction against the United States Postal Service after the agency failed “to provide, on an expedited basis, documents responsive to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests related to the agency’s preparations for the anticipated surge in voting by mail in the 2020 general election.”

The civil action was filed with the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, and seeks a court order requiring expedited fulfillment of the FOIA request.

As stated in the motion for a preliminary injunction, “The election is less than three months away. The early voting process, including both in person voting and the distribution of mail ballots will begin shortly in a number of states. In a closely contested election, with a high percentage of voting by mail, widespread mail delays causing ballots to go uncounted could influence the outcome, undermining the legitimacy of the result. It is difficult to conceive of a more pressing and important policy matter worthy of public debate.”

This FOIA litigation is part of Protect Democracy’s ongoing effort to protect the elections. It seeks greater transparency and context on recent activities at the US Postal Service that may impact vote by mail efforts across the nation.

The complaint and motion for preliminary injunction can be found here.

DOJ FOIA Request

On July 17, 2020, we submitted a FOIA request to the DOJ that relates to potential political interference by the DOJ with the USPS’s preparations for processing the anticipated surge in voting by mail in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, the request seeks any and all communications with individuals in the United States Postal Inspection Service (“USPIS”) regarding participation in any DOJ voting or voting fraud task force.

On October 3, 2020, we filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to enforce our request, and moved for a preliminary injunction on October 9.

On October 30, 2020, the district court granted a preliminary injunction, ordering DOJ to grant expedited processing and to confer with us to attempt to reach an agreement on a production schedule, expressing that “the public interest is particularly well-served by the timely release of the requested documents.”

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