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21 states to sue over U.S. Postal Service plans

Bernalillo County Clerk Linda Stover, left, and U.S. Reps. Deb Haaland and Ben Ray Luján at the main Albuquerque post office Tuesday. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Democratic attorneys general from at least 21 states, including New Mexico, announced plans Tuesday to file lawsuits against the U.S. Postal Service and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy over complaints about service changes, delays and suspicions of an intentional effort to discourage voters from mailing ballots this fall.

The lawsuits allege the Postal Service violated the law by failing to seek approval from the Postal Regulatory Commission before instituting changes. Officials from multiple state AG’s offices told The Washington Post that the suits also argue the changes could hinder their ability to conduct free and fair elections.

President Donald Trump is named as a defendant, along with the Postal Service and DeJoy, accusing the president of infringing on state power to administer elections through his attacks on mail balloting.

But also on Tuesday, DeJoy announced he is halting most of the specific operational changes cited in the lawsuits “to avoid even the appearance of impact on election mail.”

Some initiatives DeJoy said he was shelving until after the election had already been announced, including halting the planned removal of mail-processing machines and blue collection boxes, as well as an initiative to change retail hours at post offices. He also said that no mail processing facilities will be closed and that the agency has not eliminated overtime.

“We will deliver the nation’s election mail on time,” DeJoy said.

NM Attorney General Hector Balderas

In New Mexico, state Attorney General Hector Balderas said in a news release that he is joining a multistate coalition challenging operational changes at the U.S. Postal Service.

“I am asking the courts to step in and supervise this process to ensure that the federal government is working with states, including our Secretary of State, to ensure these services are delivered in the way our Constitution mandates,” Balderas said in a statement.

U.S. Reps. Deb Haaland and Ben Ray Luján, both Democrats, didn’t mince words in characterizing recent policy changes.

“We’re here to tell the postmaster general and President Trump that they’re putting lives and livelihoods of New Mexicans at risk, all in the effort to steal an election and disenfranchise voters in this country,” Haaland said in a news conference in front of the main Downtown Albuquerque branch of the U.S. Postal Service.

Luján said the president is trying to “undermine the trust and disrupt the USPS’ constitutionally mandated role.”

Luján and Haaland plan to return to Washington, D.C., to vote on the proposed Delivering for America Act, HR 8015, to stop the changes, maintain the previous level of service and keep it in place until the pandemic has ended.

U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, a Democrat, said she was pleased to hear the postmaster general announce plans to halt operational changes. But she said the Postal Service should hold off on any changes through the end of the pandemic, not just through the election.

“I know how important this issue is – how important the Postal Service is – for New Mexicans in the district I serve,” Torres Small said in an interview. “The delays that we’ve seen are impacting people across the board.”

A constituent from Lordsburg, she said, waited 10 days for the delivery of a utility bill. There also have been concerns about the delivery of medicine.

In addition to New Mexico, the other states in the coalition include Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin, according to a draft of the suit obtained by The Washington Post. Separately, Pennsylvania is filing another suit, joined by California, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts and North Carolina. New York planned separate legal action. All the states are represented by Democratic attorneys general.