Both sides of one of the lawsuits before courts this fall about voting in Missouri examined Tuesday whether the United States Postal Service is up to the task of delivering mailed ballots on time for the Nov. 3 election.
Along with the Washington, D.C.-based American Women organization, three Missouri plaintiffs from St. Louis and Webster Groves are part of the lawsuit against Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft over five election laws they say make it difficult or impossible for Missourians to vote.
The plaintiffs seek to make the following changes:
- "Eliminate the requirement that most voters have their ballot envelopes notarized.
- "Eliminate the requirement that some voters return their ballots by U.S. mail only.
- "Ensure that ballots are counted even if mail service delays cause them to be delivered after the polls close on Election Day.
- "Allow third parties to assist in collecting and submitting mail ballots.
- "Develop and implement consistent and fair signature matching protocols, and ensure that voters receive reasonable notice and an opportunity to cure if a signature is questioned."
Opening arguments in the case were Monday before Cole County Circuit Judge Dan Green.
On Tuesday, attorneys spent the morning before Green hearing testimony from and cross-examining former USPS Deputy Postmaster General Ronald Stroman.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy took over running USPS in mid-June, and since then, there have been mail delivery delays caused by policy changes including the removal of sorting machines, though DeJoy - despite President Donald Trump's attacks on the legitimacy of mail-in ballots - has told Congress the changes were not linked to November's election, according to the Associated Press.
Data presented Tuesday by the plaintiffs' lawyers in the American Women case showed that as of the week of Sept. 19, first class mail was being delivered on-time, on average across the country, about 84 percent of the time.
By comparison, first class mail was being delivered on-time approximately 92 percent of the time in mid-March, before DeJoy became head of USPS and instituted changes.
First class mail is the means by which voters return ballots to election authorities, Stroman said - though the defendants' attorneys pointed out he did not know whether Missouri election boards use first class mail or a different category of mail called marketing mail to send ballots to voters.
Data presented showed that in the USPS' Great Lakes-Gateway region that serves northern Missouri, approximately 77 percent of first class mail was being delivered on-time the week of Sept.19. For the Western-Mid-America region that serves southern Missouri, almost 86 percent of first class mail was being delivered on-time during the same week.
Stroman said "it's going to be tough" for USPS to fix its mail delay issues before the election, given the size of the organization.
The defendants' attorneys questioned whether the data was an accurate measure of how often election mail, in particular, is being delivered on time.
Stroman said the data is the best approximation there is, given not all election mail uses upgraded barcode technology that tracks mail.
Defense attorneys also showed similar data from the fiscal quarter of 2012 that included that November's presidential election and the impacts of Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast. Despite the impacts from the storm, the attorneys pointed out that two-day mail delivery was on-time almost 88 percent of the time in northern New Jersey, which was one of the worst-hit regions.
Stroman agreed USPS has the capacity to handle election mail but said "it strains credulity" that USPS was ready to handle election mail when DeJoy testified before Congress in August.
Stroman said mail trucks are leaving on-time, but delays are resulting from mail bags being left behind.
He also said that the postal service does everything it can to deliver ballots on-time and commits additional resources in the weeks ahead of elections.
The American Women lawsuit's trial in Cole County is scheduled to continue today and might last the rest of the week, according to online court records.