HOUSTON – A federal judge in Washington D.C. ordered USPS to “sweep” the Houston processing facility on Wednesday for any undelivered mail-in ballots after the agency failed to meet a court-ordered deadline on Election Day.
“It just leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth for the clock to run out, game’s over and then we find out that there was not compliance with a very important court order,” U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan said during Wednesday’s hearing.
Justice Department attorneys representing USPS apologized for missing the 3 p.m. deadline, but also defended the agency, saying USPS staff had conducted sweeps every day for two weeks at all 220 facilities where ballots are processed.
To “sweep” means to “examine every place in the plant to make sure no ballots have been left behind,” USPS said in court documents. “(T)hey search equipment, trailers, recyclable dumpsters, staging areas, empty equipment areas, bathrooms, break rooms, locker rooms, stock rooms, offices, closets, etc.”
On Election Day, USPS said it conducted special “sweeps” at 12 facilities in six states, including the Houston facility, by 8 p.m.; USPS found only 13 undelivered ballots, all in Pennsylvania.
Regardless, on Wednesday, Judge Sullivan ordered USPS to order its plant managers in Texas to order staff to conduct sweeps at all facilities and deliver any ballots found to election offices by 5 p.m., the deadline for those offices to receive mail-in ballots in Texas.
The National NAACP filed an original lawsuit against USPS in August. Judge Sullivan ordered USPS to provide an update on compliance with the order at 10 a.m. on Thursday.
He also said USPS postmaster general DeJoy would have to appear or be deposed in the case at some point.
On Election Day, the NAACP reported that according to USPS data, 300,000 mail-in ballots had been received by mail offices but not processed at processing facilities in 12 districts in six states. In Houston, 1,347 mail-in ballots were unaccounted for or not scanned.
USPS said the fact that they were not scanned does not mean they were not delivered. In fact, last Friday, USPS ordered its offices to identify mail-in ballots and deliver them directly to election offices before they could be scanned at processing facilities.