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USPS update: The latest on how absentee ballots are being counted in swing states

November 3, 2020, 7:17 PM UTC
Updated November 4, 2020, 7:36 PM UTC

Update on Nov. 4 at 2:30 p.m. ET: At a hearing on Wednesday, U.S. district judge Emmet G. Sullivan expressed displeasure with the USPS and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy for failing to adhere to an order to sweep post office facilities for unprocessed mail-in ballots in a timely manner.

Sullivan demanded answers and said DeJoy would need to be either deposed or made to testify under oath in front of Sullivan. The USPS was supposed to complete its sweep by 4:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday but missed the deadline due to a lack of personnel on site, according to Sullivan. He added that the USPS did not inform him of this issue until after the deadline had passed. “I’m not pleased about this 11th hour development last night and someone may have a price to pay,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan initially ordered the sweep due to a number of mail-in ballots in key battleground states like Pennsylvania and Michigan remaining unprocessed in USPS facilities as Election Day unfolded across the country.


Update on Nov. 3 at 5:27 p.m. ET: The USPS has missed U.S. district judge Emmet G. Sullivan’s deadline to sweep its facilities and mail any unprocessed mail-in ballots. Representatives for the USPS said that they lack the number of appropriate inspectors needed to search entire facilities. Although the USPS said that inspectors will be in the facilities in question “throughout the evening,” there’s a chance that those unprocessed ballots will miss some deadlines imposed by certain states, reporter John Kruzel of The Hill noted.   


Shortly after noon on Election Day, a federal judge ordered United States Postal Service inspectors to sweep processing facilities in a dozen districts—including some in key battleground states—to ensure any remaining mail-in ballots are delivered in time. 

The order came from Emmet G. Sullivan, a U.S. District judge in Washington, D.C., who decreed that the USPS facilities must be searched between 12:30 p.m. ET and 3:00 p.m. ET. Any unprocessed ballots found must be “immediately sent out for delivery” by 4:30 p.m. EST, Sullivan said. Among the 12 locations included in the order are districts in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, Texas, Arizona, and Florida—states locked in tight races that could swing the election in the favor of either President Donald Trump or Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

Early voting data documented in the U.S. Elections Project shows that a staggering 64.8 million mail-in ballots have been delivered thus far. Democrats have submitted 17.8 million mail-in ballots, more than 7 million more than Republicans, suggesting Sullivan’s decision could be a key factor for Biden.

Pennsylvania and Texas are the only battleground states included in Sullivan’s order that can count mail-in ballots after Election Day, as long as the ballots have been postmarked by Nov. 3. 

Last week the Supreme Court refused a Republican plea to prevent absentee ballots from being counted up to three days after Nov. 3. GOP officials have talked up the possibility of appealing that order, though.

In Texas, meanwhile, mailed ballots postmarked by Nov. 3 can be counted as long as they are received by 5 p.m. on Nov. 4.