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U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy as seen during recent remote restimony before a congressional committee.
U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy as seen during recent remote restimony before a congressional committee.
C-SPAN via YouTube

USPS Settles Colorado Misleading Mailer Complaint It Shrugged Off

Update, September 18: The State of Colorado has reached a settlement with the United States Postal Service regarding misleading notices about mail-in voting sent to thousands of Colorado residents, among many more recipients around the country. As detailed in the announcement released on September 18 by the office of Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, the USPS, whose original response to Colorado's complaint was notably dismissive, will destroy the remaining notices and allow authorities to review future versions in advance in an attempt to avoid any potential confusion.

Here's that announcement:

U.S. Postal Service agrees to destroy mailers with inaccurate voting info, give Colorado unprecedented ability to review future materials related to voting procedures in the 2020 election

In a settlement with the state of Colorado, the U.S. Postal Service has agreed to give the state the ability to review national media related to voting procedures and processes in advance of the 2020 election to prevent future voter confusion. Also, the Postal Service has agreed to destroy remaining mailers that a federal judge had previously barred the Postal Service from sending to Colorado voters.

“I am pleased with the settlement we reached today with the U.S. Postal Service. Voters deserve accurate election information. The terms of the settlement mandate that all reasonable effort be taken to remove all undelivered misleading mailers from the mail stream, and it requires collaboration between the Colorado Department of State and the USPS to make sure all future Postal Service communication includes correct information. I look forward to working with the U.S. Postal Service to ensure every Colorado voter is equipped with the information they need to successfully participate in the November 3 election. I appreciate the partnership of Attorney General Weiser to achieve this positive outcome,” said Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold.

“I appreciate the Postal Service’s recognition of the importance of working with states to ensure that voters receive accurate information about using the mail for voting. I will continue to fight for Colorado to prevent the Postal Service, or any agency, from hindering Coloradans’ right to vote and am pleased we reached an agreement that results in the misleading notices being destroyed and giving Colorado the unprecedented ability to review and improve future media campaigns by the Postal Service related to elections. I want to thank Secretary Griswold and her team as well as the dedicated professionals in our office who worked hard on this matter over the past week,” said Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser.

According to the settlement filed with the federal court in Denver, the Postal Service agreed to have the attorney general and secretary of state preview national media materials related to elections, and gave Colorado the right to temporarily block the release of any material that will confuse Colorado voters and, if necessary, seek court review. In addition, the Postal Service agreed to give the attorney general and secretary of state the right to improve the Postal Service’s national voting website (usps.com/votinginfo) and, if the Postal Service proposes making changes that will confuse Colorado voters, Colorado can seek court review.

Because of the benefits that Colorado voters will gain from these commitments from the federal government, the state asked the court to dismiss its case against the Postal Service. The settlement ends litigation on this matter, but the agreement does not prevent the state from going to court to raise any objection in the future.

Griswold and Weiser filed a lawsuit in federal court on Sept. 12 asking the judge to block the Postal Service from delivering the postcards to Colorado residents. The judge granted a temporary restraining order on the same day halting the delivery of any remaining postcards. 

Original post, September 14: On September 12, a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order in a fast response to a lawsuit filed against the United States Postal Service and embattled Postmaster General Louis DeJoy by Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold over a USPS postcard delivered to residents across the state (and the country). The mailer contains several pieces of misinformation regarding the vote-by-mail process as it applies to Colorado, yet the postal service's response to complaints from Griswold has basically been a politely stated variation on "Go to hell."

The screen capture below, grabbed from a mailer sent to a voter in Douglas County, highlights the crux of the problem. The flier acknowledges that "rules and dates vary by state" and encourages recipients to "contact your election board to confirm." But then it directs folks to "request your mail-in ballot (often called 'absentee' ballot) at least fifteen days before Election Day" and encourages them to mail it "at least 7 days before Election Day."

The problem: In Colorado, voters don't have to request a ballot, since one is mailed automatically to everyone who's registered to vote, and they're encouraged to return it well in advance of the election, to prevent the sort of vote-counting chaos that critics accuse DeJoy and the Trump administration of trying to foment.

The key section of the mailer.
The key section of the mailer.
Special to Westword

The lawsuit was filed September 11 in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado. As Griswold explains in a statement: "On Thursday [September 10], my office received notice that the United States Postal Service would be sending out a national pre-election mailer to every household in America that contains incorrect election information for Colorado. The mailer incorrectly asks that voters request a mail ballot 15 days before the election and return their ballots by mail at least seven days before the election. In Colorado, every registered voter is sent a ballot without having to make a request and voters are urged to return ballots by mail sooner than seven days before the election. My office asked USPS officials to delay or not send the mailer in Colorado, but they refused to commit to that."

Griswold adds: "As the Chief Election Official of the state of Colorado, it’s my job to try to stop misinformation and any unnecessary election confusion. The importance of this election, combined with the fact it is being held amidst a national pandemic, further heightens the need to provide correct voting information to Coloradans. That is why I am filing a lawsuit against the USPS to cease this mailer and help shield Colorado voters from this misinformation."

The USPS response to the lawsuit includes this:

Our mail-piece provides general, all-purpose guidance on the use of the mail, and not guidance on state election rules. The mail-piece – which has already been delivered to most households and will reach every American residential mailing and P.O. Box addresses in the coming week – contains a single set of simple recommendations for voters throughout the nation, regardless of where they live and where they vote. At the same time, we are aware that each state has its own specific rules, deadlines and requirements, and the mail-piece acknowledges that fact.

The main message of the mail-piece is that voters should plan ahead, educate themselves about voting options available in their jurisdiction, and, if they choose to vote by mail, to give themselves enough time to receive, complete and return their ballot. We specifically encourage voters to visit their local election board website and provide a link for this purpose (usps.com/votinginfo).

The Postal Service recognizes that not every state requires a voter to request a ballot in order to obtain one by mail for the November election. The Postal Service’s guidance remains that individuals need to understand their state’s rules and deadlines, and to plan ahead.

The USPS's insistence that it's trying to inform voters rather than sow confusion clearly hasn't persuaded Griswold, who's been getting national attention for her stance, as exemplified by her appearance over the weekend on ABC's Good Morning America:

Still, considerable damage may already have been done in Colorado and other states whose specific rules don't correspond to the postal service's one-size-fits-all advice.

Which may have been the goal all along. Click to read State of Colorado, Jena Griswold v. Louis DeJoy, et al.

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