U.S. Postmaster General Sued by 1199SEIU Over Illegal Policies That Threaten to Disenfranchise Tens of Thousands of Floridians
Lawsuit explains how DeJoy’s policies specifically threaten voters in the swing state
FLORIDA – Today, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East (1199SEIU) filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Postmaster General and the United States Postal Service (USPS) over recently implemented policies to effectively disenfranchise tens of thousands of Florida voters.
“As we look ahead to November 3rd and what we know to be the most important election of our lifetime, it is essential that every vote is counted,” said George Gresham, President of 1199SEIU. “1199 members have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic for months, and because of the nature and hours of their work, voting by mail is a critically important option to ensure that they are able to have a real say on the type of leadership they want in Washington. This suit is about removing any barriers created by these policy changes and allowing our healthcare heroes to have a strong voice in this election.”
In the midst of the on-going Covid-19 pandemic, voting by mail is the safest option for many voters, especially elderly and medically-vulnerable individuals. As healthcare workers continue to serve on the front lines of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, members of 1199SEIU are especially reliant on their ability to cast ballots by mail.
As an integral part of the election infrastructure, the Postal Service has consistently adhered to certain policies to ensure mail-in ballots are received. These policies centered on ensuring that election mail is identifiable, is delivered in time to be counted, and is treated as First Class mail (or better), regardless of the amount of postage paid.
Only months before the election, the Postal Service announced sweeping operational changes that drastically slowed down mail delivery, jeopardizing the ability of voters to rely on the mail to receive ballots and to cast them. The Postal Service has attempted to wash its hands of the special obligation it has to make sure ballots arrive in time to be counted, warning state election officials that “the Postal Service cannot guarantee a specific delivery date or alter standards to comport with individual state election laws.
“Several federal courts have already ordered the Postal Service to put its changes on hold until after the election because those changes were unlawful, threatening to disenfranchise large numbers of voters,” said Jonathan Manes, attorney at the MacArthur Justice Center, which represents 1199SEIU in the lawsuit. “This lawsuit will make sure that the Postal Service complies with these court orders in Florida and will allow 1199SEIU to keep tabs on whether the Postal Service is actually meeting its delivery standards and its special obligation to make sure ballots get delivered in time to be counted.”
Florida is one of the 32 states in which mail-in ballots must be received by Election Day, as opposed to postmarked by a certain day, in order to be counted. In Florida’s most recent primary, 35,000 mail-in ballots were rejected; 66 percent for missing the 7 PM Election Day deadline.
In 2018, three statewide races resulted in recounts and were decided by fewer than 33,000 votes. Four years ago, President Trump won Florida by fewer than 113,000 votes.
“Working people need to be able to rely on vote-by-mail because many essential workers don’t have much flexibility in our work hours, and many of our seniors and people with serious underlying health concerns could be at risk during this pandemic,” said Joaquin Garcia, a healthcare worker and 1199SEIU member in Miami-Dade County. “Trying to sabotage postal delivery is another cynical attempt by the Trump administration to silence us. In a democracy, we should be encouraging all of our voices to be heard.”
The Postal Service’s mail delivery in Florida has been especially slow. Less than 90% of First Class mail in Florida is being delivered on time within the Postal Services’ own 2-5 day targets. That could translate into many thousands of ballots not being delivered in time to be counted. The lawsuit should allow 1199SEIU to get specific information about how voters in particular cities and towns may be disproportionately impacted by slow mail, so that it can support healthcare workers voting in Florida and address these problems before Election Day.
The Postal Service’s policy changes and slowed mail delivery directly harm the union’s extensive voter education and engagement efforts. Union members need to be able to rely on having their mail-in ballots counted, and union employees have been now forced to divert significant resources to attempt to address the uncertainty and adapt to the delays caused by DeJoy.
“Voting by mail is critical for retirees and seniors who might have health issues or transportation challenges,” said Clare Thompson, a retired caregiver and member of 1199SEIU in the Tampa Bay area. “This is about our right to vote and protecting our democracy, and we will not let attempts to stifle our voices by sabotaging the postal service prevent us from making our voice heard.”
The lawsuit, filed today in federal district court in Miami, asks the Court to order immediate disclosure of detailed information to determine whether the Postal Service is complying with its obligations under the law and existing court orders. 1199SEIU is prepared to seek additional emergency relief if it appears that the Postal Service’s neglect is continuing to cause delays, to ensure that Florida voters can exercise their right to vote by mail in this election. 1199 SEIU is represented in the case by the MacArthur Justice Center as well as the law firms Loevy & Loevy and Jenner & Block.