A federal judge earlier on Tuesday ordered the USPS to have postal inspectors sweep postal facilities and find election ballots across the country that have been scanned into the postal system but not delivered to election authorities.
If the ballots are not delivered today, Election Day, in most cases they will not be counted.
But Justice Department attorneys said that the Postal Service was "unable" to meet the judge's order to have the ballots located and processed by 3:30 p.m. Attorneys for USPS noted that the sweeps were already scheduled to occur from 4 to 8 p.m. on election night.
"Defendants were unable to accelerate the daily review process to run from 12:30pm to 3:00pm, without significantly disrupting preexisting activities on the day of the Election," the USPS said in its response to U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, adding the deadline was something they "did not understand the Court to invite or require."
BREAKING: USPS fails to meet deadline set by U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan to sweep facilities and immediately… https://t.co/GSdHE0GVFJ— John Kruzel (@John Kruzel)1604439335.0
The attorneys also said: "There are only one or two Inspectors in any one facility, and thus they do not have the ability to personally scour the entire facility. Indeed, doing so would be impractical (given the size of that facility) and would take them away from their other pressing Election Mail-related responsibilities, as detailed above."
Plaintiffs sought an emergency hearing request after the USPS failed to meet the deadline, but Judge Sullivan "opted instead to let the USPS’s regular sweep and certification process continue," Vice News reported.
"Per standard operating procedure, USPS personnel sweep every facility, including the ones in question here, for ballots at least once a day during election cycles and report 'all clear' certifications after they're complete," the reported added.
Nevertheless, one of the nation's preeminent voting rights experts, Ari Berman, said, "Louis DeJoy should be held in contempt of court & face criminal charges for obstructing an election if these ballots are not delivered on time."
Mail delays got worse closer to election, at same time GOP courts gave voters less time to return ballots. This is… https://t.co/kbzkUFgLL0— Ari Berman (@Ari Berman)1604440886.0
Election law expert Rick Hasen:
The biggest election day failure is from USPS to timely deliver the ballots, and we can put the blame squarely on D… https://t.co/Vpm0iSP58Y— Rick Hasen (@Rick Hasen)1604442668.0
Former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner, now an NBC News and MSNBC legal analyst:
Please read: Judge Emmet Sullivan ORDERED a full “sweep” of postal facilities, ORDERED the delivery of all ballots… https://t.co/MwuSaaaEKT— Glenn Kirschner (@Glenn Kirschner)1604437399.0
(Correction: This article incorrectly attributed quotes to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. This article has also been updated to clarify that the USPS had already scheduled ballot sweeps.)