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Massachusetts may join effort to prevent US Postal Service cuts

People gathered in front of the post office in Midland, Mich., last week to protest recent changes to Postal Service operations under Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.
People gathered in front of the post office in Midland, Mich., last week to protest recent changes to Postal Service operations under Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.Katy Kildee/Associated Press

Massachusetts’s top prosecutor is discussing a lawsuit with other state attorneys general to prevent the Trump administration from potentially further curtailing US Postal Service operations amid an expected rush of voting by mail in this fall’s general election.

The litigation, which could be announced as early as this week, adds to the rush of measures state and federal officials are weighing as President Trump mounts repeated assaults on the expansion of voting by mail, claiming without evidence that it’s a magnet for fraud and that it could de-legitimize the election.

Attorney General Maura Healey said Sunday she is in discussions with several other states’ attorneys about “all available” legal options after Louis DeJoy, the new postmaster general and a leading Republican donor, made a series of organizational changes within the Postal Service, stoking fears voters who submit ballots by mail could be disenfranchised this fall.

Prosecutors are discussing “legal action to remedy what the Trump administration has done and to prevent them from further interfering with the operations of the Postal Service,” Healey said in a phone interview Sunday. “Voting is happening now. This is a now issue.”

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The Washington Post first reported the possible litigation Sunday, which involves attorneys general from Virginia, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Washington, and North Carolina, among others, and is focused on how they could sue the administration to prevent operational changes or funding lapses that could affect the election.

DeJoy has framed the changes, including eliminating overtime, as cost-cutting measures. But it’s created a days-long backlog of mail delivery in parts of the country, and, according to lawmakers, prompted the Postal Service’s inspector general to agree to launch a probe into the agency, including “all recent staffing and policy changes.”

Massachusetts was among dozens of states warned last month by the Postal Service that ballots cast by mail for the November election could arrive late even if sent before the state-imposed deadline, raising the prospect of an untold number of votes going uncounted.

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Both Healey and Secretary of State William F. Galvin have urged Massachusetts voters who plan to submit their ballots by mail to do so as early as possible, and Healey urged residents to “continue to have faith in the Postal Service” despite what she called Trump’s efforts to undermine it.

Asked if she intends to vote by mail, Healey said she hasn’t decided, but “probably will.”

“We’ve turned to the courts in the past for immediate relief when Trump has done something illegal or unconstitutional. We’ll likely be doing that together, to say we really need to uphold the integrity of our electoral process,” Healey, a Charlestown Democrat, said of her and other attorneys general. “What we’ve seen from Donald Trump is an effort to undermine the electoral process, to create chaos and doubt in voters’ minds.”

The Massachusetts Legislature passed and Governor Charlie Baker signed a new law in July that allows each of Massachusetts’s registered 4.6 million voters to cast an absentee ballot by mail for the Sept. 1 state primary and Nov. 3 general election.

More than a dozen states have already taken measures to expand voting options in the face of COVID-19 including Massachusetts, the Globe has reported.

But Trump’s repeated political attacks on voting by mail, combined with the changes ordered by DeJoy, have stoked fears that voters could be disenfranchised this fall.

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Galvin, the state’s top elections officials, told the Globe Friday that the earlier warning from the Postal Service was at best “a bureaucratic action to cover themselves,” and at worst, “an effort to create doubt and confusion” similar to Trump’s unsubstantiated attacks on voting by mail.

‘‘He is undermining the safest voting method during a pandemic and forcing people to cast a ballot in person,’’ Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat, told the Post. “It is reprehensible.”

For months, election officials in both major political parties have been encouraging voters to cast their ballots by mail to avoid coronavirus infection. The effort has worked, with record numbers voting by mail in a slew of primaries this spring and summer — and planning to do so again in November, according to numerous public polls.

More than 180 million Americans are now eligible to vote by mail in the fall after many states relaxed their rules.

Galvin is expected to provide on Tuesday the number of people who have requested ballots in Massachusetts. Election experts say expanding vote-by-mail options has proven to rev up turnout, especially in primaries. In Massachusetts state primary races haven’t topped 30 percent turnout since 1992, state data shows.

But the president, lagging in the polls behind presumed Democratic nominee Joe Biden, has been lobbing nonstop attacks on voting by mail, last month going as far as to suggest that the election should be delayed until people can “properly” vote.

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States that have embraced universal mail voting have documented tiny rates of ballot fraud, data shows. Trump has also said he opposes billions of dollars in urgently needed election funding for the states and the Postal Service because he does not want states to make it easier for Americans to vote by mail.

In an appearance Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows appeared to back off Trump’s earlier comments, saying the president is open to legislation that would ensure adequate postal funding to manage the surge of mail ballots this fall. Meadows also said no postal sorting machines will be taken offline between now and Nov. 3, insisting that previous removals were part of a plan that predated the Trump administration.

“The president of the United States is not going to interfere with anybody casting their vote in a legitimate way, whether it’s the post office or anything else,’' Meadows said.

But in the same interview, Meadows emphasized the president’s concern about ballot fraud, even though he was unable to point to evidence of widespread fraud. “There’s no evidence that there’s not,” he said.





Material from The Washington Post was used in this article.


Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.