The US Postal Service has agreed to take extraordinary measures to deliver mailed ballots for Georgia’s upcoming Senate runoff elections, including treating ballots as express mail, sweeping postal facilities for ballots and making special arrangements to ensure ballots reach the state election board’s offices in a more timely manner.
The plan – signed off on by a federal judge Wednesday, according to documents filed in an ongoing federal lawsuit – revives similar measures implemented for this year’s November elections, after several federal courts stepped in as de facto monitors over the Postal Service to make sure its practices wouldn’t disenfranchise absentee votes.
It comes amid a push for greater oversight of USPS operations this year after fears President Donald Trump would attempt to hamper mail-in, also known as absentee, voting. The plan will keep the USPS under heightened scrutiny at least through January 5, when the control of the Senate is at stake in two contests that weren’t decided in November because no one received a majority of the vote in either race.
The USPS agreement for mail service in Georgia, which is now under a court order, lays out procedures for ballots mailed locally in the state to get to the board of elections office on the same day, with special attention so that they arrive no later than 7 p.m. on Election Day.
The USPS, various states and the courts took special care before the November election to make sure votes cast in good faith by mail wouldn’t be thrown out if they arrived after Election Day, since those late-arriving ballots’ legality was still in dispute. In states that were closely fought in the presidential election, there weren’t enough of these ballots to sway the winner.
“USPS shall coordinate with the Georgia BOEs to make arrangements to deliver all inbound ballots to the BOE before 7:00 p.m. local time on January 5, 2020,” the agreement this week said.
Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue are defending their seats against their respective Democratic opponents, Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. If Democrats flip both seats, they’ll control the Senate since Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, as president of the Senate, can break ties in the chamber.
With the high stakes of the Senate contests, a number of Georgians are turning out to vote early. As of Thursday, more than 2 million Georgians have already voted, with more than 721,000 absentee ballots accepted. Early voting began on December 14 and goes through December 31. Georgia also saw high turnout in the general election, after which President-elect Joe Biden narrowly turned the state blue for the first time in 28 years.
This is not the first time the USPS has been thrust into the political spotlight. In August, Trump said he opposed funding for the organization because he didn’t want to see the money used for mail-in voting. Throughout his campaign, Trump baselessly claimed the practice would lead to voter fraud.
This holiday season, the USPS is going through an especially difficult period, with an unprecedented volume of packages and limited employees to process them due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In November, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy signaled that he would propose a plan to overhaul the USPS in the “next several months.”
Paul Murphy and Devon Sayers contributed to this report.