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Topline

Amid massive delays during the holiday season, the U.S. Postal Service finalized an agreement Thursday to expedite delivery of mail-in ballots in the Georgia runoff elections with civil rights groups that sued the agency earlier this year.

Key Facts

USPS will deliver ballots in the Atlanta district directly to board of elections offices rather than going through the typical days-long processing route.

USPS will also conduct daily sweeps of postal facilities between Dec. 28 and Jan. 5 to find ballots and make sure they’re delivered immediately, including extra sweeps on Jan. 4 and 5.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan ordered the agreement be put in place Thursday after USPS and the civil rights groups finished their negotiations and filed the proposed agreement late Wednesday night.

Court data cited by the Washington Post shows only 80.4% of ballots in Atlanta recently were delivered on time, though the data USPS reports is incomplete and excludes some ballots, such as those delivered directly to election offices.

The agreement follows similar protocols USPS implemented for the November election, and USPS communications provided to the court suggest the agency was already prepared to implement the measures in Georgia, but is now being held legally responsible for doing so.

USPS has appealed the court case involved in Wednesday’s agreement, which was one of several cases that blocked recent changes at the agency that provoked mail delays over the summer, even as the case continues in federal district court.

Big Number

1.3 million. That’s the approximate number of mail-in ballots that have been requested for the Georgia runoff elections, according to the U.S. Elections Project, of which 721,752 have already been returned and accepted.

Crucial Quote

USPS spokeswoman Martha Johnson said in a statement to Forbes that election mail has been the agency’s “number one priority for the past eight months” and the agency is “equally committed” to delivering election mail for the Georgia runoffs as the general election.

Key Background

USPS’s handling of mail-in ballots has been a major source of concern since changes imposed this spring at the agency by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump ally, caused widespread mail delays and fears that the postmaster general was intentionally trying to hinder the delivery of mail-in ballots. (DeJoy has repeatedly denied this.) While the changes at the heart of the delays earlier this year have now largely been reversed in response to the ongoing litigation, USPS is now facing a renewed wave of delays. The combination of unprecedented package volume amid the holidays—which has caused similarly overloaded competitors UPS and FedEx to reject many packages, leaving even more to USPS—and the impact of Covid-19 on the agency’s workforce has left packages and mail piled up at postal facilities and delayed nationwide. The American Postal Workers Union (APWU) reports 19,000 postal employees are in quarantine because of exposure to or contracting the coronavirus, and employees told the Philadelphia Inquirer the issue has been exacerbated by USPS leadership failing to adequately prepare for the expected volume surge. “In 33 years, I have never seen it this bad,” Andy Kubat, president of the APWU’s Lehigh Valley Area Local, told the Inquirer about his Pennsylvania facility.

What To Watch For

The Georgia runoff elections will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate, as Republican incumbent Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue face off against Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, respectively.

Source: Forbes – Business

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