As Courts Back Broad Mail-In Voting, DeJoy Apologizes for Missteps

Courts on both sides of the United States issued rulings on Thursday that could expand mail-in voting in the election in November, as the postmaster general privately apologized to state officials for missteps in his agency’s efforts to educate voters on mail-in ballots.

In Pennsylvania, the state Supreme Court paved the way for more mail-in ballots to be counted by extending the due date they must be received by election officials and allowing expanded use of drop boxes.

In Washington State, a federal judge blocked operational and policy changes made by the Postal Service in recent months that have slowed mail delivery and amounted to “voter disenfranchisement.”

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who instituted those changes, conceded during a video conference with election officials on Thursday afternoon that he had failed to adequately consult with state election officials on a postcard that was sent to addresses nationwide to educate voters about mail-in ballots. The apology came as some state election officials had publicly clashed with the Postal Service over mail voting, including accusing Mr. DeJoy and his team of deliberately providing misinformation about how to vote by mail.

Taken together, the developments were a victory for Democrats and others pushing to expand mail voting before an election in which record use of the practice is expected because of the coronavirus pandemic. They also came on a day that began with President Trump repeating his frequent attacks on voting by mail, which he and his allies have been falsely claiming is ripe for fraud.

In a post labeled by Twitter as misleading, the president claimed the results of the election might “NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED” because of mail-in ballots. “Stop Ballot Madness!” he said.

During the video conference on Thursday, Mr. DeJoy struck a starkly different tone. He defended the postcard as a good-faith effort “to encourage voters to inform themselves on how to vote by mail effectively,” even as he conceded that he had failed to “give you a heads-up to see the mailer in advance.”

“We will do better next time,” he said.

And Mr. DeJoy, a major Trump donor who had been accused by Democrats of helping the president try to sabotage the mail vote, sought to distance himself from Mr. Trump’s language and that of other members of his administration.

Secretary of State Jena Griswold of Colorado, who had sued Mr. DeJoy over the postcard, pressed him during the video conference about his “specific plan to address the misinformation coming from the administrationabout voting by mail.

Mr. DeJoy claimed he had at times “disagreed with the president publicly on that particular issue,” but he did not offer specifics on his disagreements, according to people who participated in the video conference, which was private and included dozens of secretaries of state from across the country.

After the video conference, Ms. Griswold, a Democrat, said she found it “very noteworthy that he says he’s publicly in disagreement with the president” but suggested she was not fully convinced. “I also think actions speak louder than words,” she said in an interview.

The frayed relationship between the Postal Service and election administrators has increased concerns about election-time chaos, including the potential disqualification of as many as one million ballots for missed deadlines, as a number of states have introduced new rules to drastically expand the use of mail-in voting and ballot-collection drop boxes.

Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, Democrat of Pennsylvania, a crucial battleground state, had expressed concerns about warnings from the post office regarding delivery times. Her department sought relief in a court filing.

The ruling in Pennsylvania, which came in response to a lawsuit brought by the state Democratic Party, effectively expanded mail-in voting by ordering that ballots postmarked by Election Day be counted if they were received by 5 p.m. on the Friday after the election. The court added additional relief for ballots “received within this period that lack a postmark or other proof of mailing, or for which the postmark or other proof of mailing is illegible” and said they would “be presumed to have been mailed by Election Day, unless a preponderance of the evidence demonstrates that it was mailed after Election Day.”

Election 2020 ›

Understand Mail-In Voting

Updated Sept. 15, 2020

    • Rise in Mail Voting: About three-quarters of all American voters will be eligible to receive a ballot in the mail for the 2020 election — the most in U.S. history. Roughly 80 million mail ballots may flood election offices, more than double what was returned in 2016.
    • Surge in Paper Mail: The long-troubled Postal Service may be overwhelmed by the task of delivering tens of millions more votes cast by mail.
    • How to Count Ballots? There may be various battles over how to count ballots. Should mailed ballots be counted if they are received by Election Day or simply postmarked by Election Day? Does a ballot count if the post office does not postmark it at all?
    • Do You Still Have Time?: Voters in 35 states can request ballots so close to Election Day that it may not be feasible for their ballots to be mailed to them and sent back to election officials in time to be counted. Here’s a list of state’s where it’s risky to procrastinate.
    • A Long Road to Election Day: It is estimated that party organizations, campaigns and interest groups across the county have already filed 160 lawsuits trying to shape the rules of the election.

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