WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A judge on Wednesday said he wants to ensure all remaining ballots for the closely contested U.S. election are delivered, demanding that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy answer questions about why the postal service failed to complete a court-ordered sweep for undelivered ballots.
“The pressing issues are where are the ballots and how do we get them delivered so they can be counted,” U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan said in concluding a hearing that included testimony from U.S. Postal Service (USPS) official Kevin Bray who answered questions about ballot deliveries.
Many states are accepting ballots for up to a week after Election Day Tuesday as long as they were postmarked by then. Ballots are still being counted by election officials in battleground states in the contest between Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden.
The postal service is carrying out sweeps and using priority mail networks through Saturday to deliver any remaining ballots. It said on Wednesday that it had completed sweeps late on Tuesday ordered by the judge and turned up just 13 ballots, all of them in Pennsylvania.
Sullivan had said that DeJoy, a Trump appointee and previously a Republican Party fundraiser, “is either going to have to be deposed or appear before me and testify under oath about why some measures were not taken.”
Sullivan had ordered the sweeps in response to lawsuits by groups including Vote Forward, the NAACP, and Latino community advocates.
The USPS told Sullivan it could not meet his 3 p.m. EST (2000 GMT) Tuesday deadline, saying it was not logistically possible.
“The court has been very clear that it expects total compliance,” Sullivan said. “I was just as shocked to hear that nothing else was done after the injunction was issued.”
Sullivan separately ordered a new round of sweeps at postal processing centers in Texas ahead of Wednesday’s deadline for postal ballots. USPS said it had identified about 800 ballots for delivery in the state on Wednesday during two sweeps.
Postal Service data showed that as of Sunday about 300,000 ballots that were received for mail processing did not receive scans confirming their delivery to election authorities.
In a court filing the Postal Service said “the lack of a destination or finalization scan does not mean that the ballots were not delivered.”
The USPS said on Wednesday that “ballots were delivered in advance of the election deadlines. We employed extraordinary measures to deliver ballots directly to local boards of elections. When this occurs, by design, these ballots bypass certain processing operations and do not receive a final scan.”
Sullivan’s order covered processing centers in central Pennsylvania, northern New England, greater South Carolina, south Florida, Colorado, Wisconsin and parts of Illinois, Arizona, Alabama and Wyoming, as well as the cities of Atlanta, Houston, Philadelphia and Detroit.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Grant McCool)