YAKIMA — A federal judge in Yakima recently granted Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s motion to expedite discovery in his lawsuit challenging drastic operational changes at the U.S. Postal Service that threaten critical mail delivery and could undermine the national election in November.

Judge Stanley A. Bastian, the chief judge for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington, gave the administration 10 days to produce the records. Ferguson sought to speed the discovery process to not only obtain, but also preserve evidence concerning the implementation of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s recent changes to the Postal Services.

During Thursday’s hearing on Ferguson’s motion, Judge Bastian said: “This case is unlike any other case this court has been involved in. Time is of the essence and because of this, there is good cause for expedited discovery. …We don’t have much time between now and the election. I think everyone on this call wants their vote to be counted. I think everybody in this country is relying on the Postal Service to do their job. So I hope at some point we will be hearing from the Postal Service not a bunch of procedural arguments or jurisdictional arguments, but some assurance to the American public that the Postal Service is up to the challenge of delivering ballots to the voters and back to the states so they can be appropriately counted.”

“This case must be decided as quickly as possible,” Ferguson said. “There is no time to waste. Millions of Americans depend on the mail every day to receive their prescriptions, pay bills, receive Social Security checks, send rent payments and more. Our election is less than 70 days away, and states are working to plan an election that is safe and secure during this unprecedented pandemic. This can’t wait. I’m glad the court agrees.”

Ferguson is leading a coalition of 14 states that filed a lawsuit over the changes to the Postal Service on Aug. 18. The Postal Service changes, including eliminating or reducing staff overtime, halting outgoing mail processing at state distribution centers and removing critical mail sorting equipment, threaten the timely delivery of mail to millions of Americans who rely on the Postal Service for everything from medical prescriptions to ballots.

Ferguson’s lawsuit asserts that the Postmaster General implemented these drastic changes to mail service unlawfully, and seeks to stop the service reductions. While the Postmaster General made public commitments after Ferguson’s lawsuit was filed to cease implementing some — but not all — of those changes, questions remain about what changes are still in effect and whether mail delays are likely to continue.

The changes at the Postal Service come as President Donald Trump has continued to claim without evidence that widespread vote-by-mail will lead to a fraudulent election. Washington state has allowed elections to be conducted completely by mail-in ballot since 2005, and mandated the practice statewide in 2011. The state has not experienced voter fraud at any level of significance.

Changes impact seniors, veterans
The Postal Service changes impact more than mail-in elections, they also impair critical mail services that many seniors and veterans rely upon.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many Americans, especially seniors and other high-risk individuals, to rely increasingly on mail delivery services while they stay at home for their health. In general, seniors rely heavily on the mail to receive essentials like medications, Social Security benefits and even groceries.

The policy changes have already impacted our country’s veterans, who are reporting much longer wait times to receive mail-order prescription drugs. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), which provides broad health care services to veterans nationwide, fills about 80 percent of veteran prescriptions by mail. The VA processes about 120 million mail-order prescriptions per year — 470,000 a day. The Postal Service makes daily prescription deliveries to 330,000 veterans across the country.

Changes impact vote-by-mail elections
While Washington state counts ballots that are postmarked by election day, even if they arrive after, other states require that ballots be received on or before election day to be counted.

Slow mail service has multiple implications, as the Seattle Times editorial board noted recently.

For example, state law allows Washington voters to change their address up to eight days before an election and receive a mailed ballot. However, the Times noted, if Postal Service delays slow the delivery of their ballots, they will not receive their ballot timely, which will impair their ability to vote.

Across the country, record numbers of American residents are requesting absentee ballots in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For example, in Wisconsin, around 2 million voters are expected to request an absentee ballot and vote by mail. In June, the Postal Service shut down four sorting machines used at its distribution center in downtown Milwaukee, Wis., and plans to remove three more. Staff shortages have cut the number of employees running each sorting machine in half. Election officials in Wisconsin now report that election mail takes about a week to arrive to voters in Madison.

These delays greatly increase the likelihood that mailed-in votes will miss election deadlines and threaten to disenfranchise a large swath of voters, particularly those most vulnerable to COVID-19.

Washington is leading the lawsuit, joined by Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Assistant Attorneys General Kristin Beneski, Nathan Bays, Andrew Hughes and Cristina Sepe, as well as Deputy Solicitors General Emma Grunberg, Tera Heintz and Karl Smith are handling the case for Washington.