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Trump faces class action over mail slowdown ahead of election

U.S. Post Office delivery trucks are reflected in the side mirror of a vehicle on March 31 in Arvada, Colo. (David Zalubowski/AP photo via Courthouse News)

MANHATTAN (CN) — Days after President Trump confirmed that his deliberate withholding of funds will make it harder for people to vote with absentee ballots in the November election, he was hit Monday with a federal class action.

Launched by four New York political candidates and a dozen would-be absentee voters, the suit says that the mail slowdown is “all but automatically unconstitutional,” serving no legitimate public purpose.

Trump has been vocal in his opposition to mail-in voting. “With Universal Mail-In Voting … 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history,” he tweeted on July 30.

And he has been feuding with congressional Democrats over their proposal for a new coronavirus relief package that includes billions of dollars in new Postal Service funding in anticipation of a slew of absentee ballots.

“If we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money,” Trump said in an interview last Thursday. “That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting. They just can’t have it.”

Leading the latest suit against Trump in New York is Mondaire Jones, the Democratic nominee for the 17th Congressional District, representing parts of Westchester and Rockland counties. The Ridgewood form Cohen&Green represents the class, along with Madison Avenue attorney Ali Najmi.

Along with state Senator Alessandra Biaggi, Assembly candidates Chris Burdick and Stephanie Keegan, as well as the voters, Jones notes that the result so far of the unexplained destruction of at least 671 mail-sorting machines across the country has reduced the Postal Service’s capacity to process mail “by more than 21.4 million pieces of mail per hour.” (Emphasis in original.)

“The burden of this diminished capacity falls wildly differently across various states and areas — and seems, at least in part, targeted at either (1) locations in states where the general election will likely be close or (2) major cities, likely to skew Democratic, that will impact the national popular vote tally,” the lawsuit states.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy — a major Trump donor and fundraiser — recently imposed a round of austerity measures including a ban on overtime and a hiring freeze.

Other new rules include prohibiting letter carriers from sorting mail before leaving on their route, allowing them to park their mail trucks in only four places per day, and requiring them to return on time even if they haven’t finished delivering mail.

As a result of these changes, “it is a virtual certainty that a significant number of ballots received by USPS, mailed by voters in the time permitted by law, will not be counted,” the class alleges.

DeJoy said the new measures are needed to cut costs. “The Postal Service is in a financially unsustainable position, stemming from substantial declines in mail volume and a broken business model. We are currently unable to balance our costs with available funding sources,” he said on July 27.

But the plaintiffs claim this is a pretext. They note that the Post Office intends to eliminate 969 mail-sorting machines in total, or about 20% of capacity.

“Multiple sources within the Postal Service … have personally witnessed the machines, which cost millions of dollars, being destroyed or thrown in the dumpster,” Vice News reported.

One effect of eliminating the machines is to make it more likely that absentee ballots will not receive a proper postmark, which is usually necessary for a ballot to be counted, the plaintiffs allege.

Some 76% of Americans are eligible to vote by mail this year even if they could show up at the polls. Courthouse News recently profiled the many issues that can arise with mail-in voting even without additional postal problems.

The class is alleging violations of the First Amendment and Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Last Friday the Arizona secretary of state asked the state attorney general to launch a criminal probe of the slowdown.

Trump has feuded with the Postal Service before. In April he referred to the agency as “a joke.”

But the White House says the accusations in the lawsuit are ridiculous. “The notion that President Trump asked the United States Postal Service to slow down its deliveries to millions of Americans across the country is baseless and absurd,” White House deputy press secretary Sarah Matthews said last week.

“What the president is doing is demanding much-needed and long-overdue change to bring efficiency, accountability and fiscal responsibility to the USPS. These changes will save the USPS approximately $200 million dollars a year,” Matthews continued.

On August 10 — days before Trump bragged to a Fox host that “universal mail-in voting” would be impossible without the funding measures his administration is stonewalling — USA Today factcheckers said it could not confirm the claim that the mail is being intentionally slowed.

Postal Service spokesman David Partenheimer suggested that if the states want to rely on mail-in voting, it’s up to them to conform to postal necessities rather than the other way around.

“Certain deadlines concerning mail-in ballots may be incompatible with the Postal Service’s delivery standards,” he said, and “to the extent that states choose to use the mail as part of their elections, they should do so in a manner that realistically reflects how the mail works.”