Santa Clara County joins legal effort to oppose postal service changes
Cindy Chavez, president of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, speaks at a Sept. 8 press conference. Photo courtesy of Beth Willon.

Following President Donald Trump’s denunciation of voting by mail, Santa Clara County led a nationwide coalition of 32 municipalities in joining a legal challenge opposing changes to the United States Postal Service.

The coalition, which includes the nonprofit watchdog group Public Rights Project, filed two amicus briefs Sept. 4 in cases challenging changes that might threaten voting by mail. Amicus briefs are legal documents filed in court cases by non-litigants who wish to share information or arguments with the court.

One brief was filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in the case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. DeJoy and the other in the District of Columbia in the case of New York v. Donald Trump.

“The Trump Administration attempt to sabotage the USPS is an unlawful assault on our democracy,” said Santa Clara County Counsel James Williams. “The county of Santa Clara will continue to make every effort to ensure that its constituents are able to exercise their fundamental right to vote in a safe and reliable manner.”

In July, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy implemented changes that affected the speed of mail delivery, telling mail carriers to leave mail behind if it would cause them to extend their routes or work overtime.

According to the briefs, the changes make it more difficult for voters and organizers to send and receive information, less than two months before the general election.

“We actually don’t even know the full scope of changes. And so that’s one of the purposes behind the litigation,” Williams told San José Spotlight. “We know that they’ve been making changes to remove sorting machines, work rules around the processing and sorting of mail and things of that nature that have an effect on the timely delivery processing of mail.”

The county this year is mailing every voter a ballot as part of its compliance with the Voter’s Choice Act.

Jill Habig, Public Rights Project founder and president, said these changes disproportionately affect elderly residents, people of color and tribal governments who depend on a mail-in ballot.

“Many tribal governments are in rural parts of the country where the postal service is even more central to daily life because private companies like UPS or FedEx don’t always deliver to those places,” Habig said.

Casting ballots via USPS is critical for the Yurok Tribe in Del Norte and Humboldt County. The tribe — and signator of the briefs —  passed emergency legislation requiring this year’s election to be conducted completely by mail due to COVID-19 concerns.

Trump has criticized mail-in voting, citing its potential to increase voter fraud. He has also said he will not provide additional funding to the U.S. Postal Service.

“The postal service is really central to so many core operations of government,” said Habig. “It’s even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we’re seeing the Trump administration’s recklessness and, frankly, lawlessness really threaten those core operations. So our coalition of local and tribal governments are helping to push back and get those changes reversed.”

The briefs explain how the USPS aids residents in receiving other essential services such as prescription delivery and  rental assistance checks.

“This isn’t just about the upcoming election,” said Public Rights Project’s Legal Director Jonathan Miller. “The USPS’s changes undercut the ability of those on the front lines of government committed to serving their communities. They delay needed medications, delivery of test results, and crucial notices. These politically motivated and totally unnecessary changes harm people’s lives.”

In an Aug. 24 statement before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, DeJoy assured the public mail-in voting will not be hindered.

“We will do everything we can to handle and deliver election mail in a manner consistent with the proven processes and procedures that we have relied on for years,” DeJoy said. “Nevertheless, I encourage all Americans who choose to vote by mail to request their ballots early and to vote early, as a common sense best practice.”

Halbig said voters should make their decisions as soon as possible and submit ballots right away in light of anticipated postal service delays. If someone wants to avoid going through the postal service, Habig recommends finding a local government drop-off box or early voting location.

“Another thing that voters could do is volunteer to be poll workers,” Habig said. “Many poll workers are elderly and therefore at higher risk for COVID. So for those folks who actually do need to vote on Election Day, or even at early vote centers, volunteering to be a poll worker is a great public service to help your fellow residents exercise their voting rights.”

For more clarity on voting by mail, read San Jose Spotlight’s guide: Voting in Santa Clara County: What you need to know.

Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.

 

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