Judge orders USPS to ‘sweep’ mail facilities for ballots

US District Judge Emmet Sullivan on Tuesday ordered the US Postal Service to conduct a sweep of processing facilities on the afternoon of Election Day to ensure absentee ballots that haven’t been delivered are swiftly delivered to election offices.

Sullivan, based in Washington, DC, has been hearing lawsuits over election mail delays. He’s better known for refusing the Justice Department’s request to drop its case against President Trump’s first national security adviser, Mike Flynn.

The judge’s order instructs Postal Service inspectors to hunt for outstanding ballots in processing facilities across the country. Inspectors or their designees must perform the searches by 3 p.m. Eastern time, according to Sullivan’s order, with a government court filing due by 4:30 p.m. to report on the results.

Inspectors must “sweep the facilities … to ensure that no ballots have been held up and that any identified ballots are immediately sent out for delivery,” Sullivan ordered.

The hunt will scour facilities in key swing states and districts such as central Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Detroit, Colorado, Wyoming, Atlanta, Houston, Alabama, northern New England, greater South Carolina, South Florida, Lakeland, Fla., and Arizona, according to Sullivan’s order.

It’s unclear what partisan impact the review may have.

States have widely varying policies and mail-in votes tilt Democratic, according to preliminary statistics. But ensuring ballots arrive on Election Day could reduce Republican fears of fraud in swing state Pennsylvania, where the state Supreme Court has allowed ballots arriving by Friday to be counted, even without legible postmarks.

In many states, including Florida, mail-in ballots are due Tuesday evening. Most of Florida’s results are expected to be released Tuesday night, potentially spelling doom for Trump’s re-election, or shifting focus to battlegrounds in the Midwest.

More than 100 million people already voted early this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a vast increase over 2016, when about 139 million people in total voted.

Defenders of Flynn, who pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to FBI agents including Peter Strzok, accuse Sullivan of bias for resisting the Justice Department’s May request to drop Flynn’s case. The former Trump adviser says he did not intentionally lie and the Justice Department said a review found no valid basis for the FBI to interview him.

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