The USPS is failing to meet the court-set deadline for mail-in ballot searches, raising questions about how many votes are not counted.

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The United States Postal Service failed to meet the deadline set by a U.S. District Court judge on Tuesday to conduct a full search of mail processing facilities in key swing states and states with strict deadlines for absentee ballots to locate all unprocessed ballots.

This week, the USPS reported that approximately 300,000 ballots had received an incoming inspection but not an outgoing inspection, suggesting that they had not been delivered. In response, Judge Emmet Sullivan ordered the Federal Postal Service to search its facilities until 3:00 p.m. Tuesday to locate undelivered ballots in key regions of the country. But the USPS did not meet the deadline.

“Given the time constraints imposed by the court’s order and the fact that postal inspectors operate nationwide, the defendants were unable to expedite the daily 12:30 to 3:00 p.m. review process without significantly disrupting the already existing activities on election day, something the defendants did not understand that the court invited or required them to do,” USPS lawyers said in a legal statement first reported by John Kruzel of The Hill.

In a statement to Washington Newsday, the USPS denied suggestions that it was not working fast enough to process the ballots.

“Beginning in January 2020, the US Postal Service began ‘all-clear’ procedures to ensure that the Political and Election Mail, which contains voter registration materials, applications for postal votes, and the ballots themselves, would not be left behind. These efforts have intensified as we approach election day,” USPS spokesman David Partenheimer said in an e-mail.

“Since October 29, the inspection service has been conducting daily inspections of all 220 facilities that process ballots,” he said. Partenheimer said that “total mail volume in the past 14 months has exceeded 4.5 billion pieces of political and election mail that were tracked, an increase of 114 percent over the 2016 election cycle.

Sullivan’s contract affected mail processing locations in 12 postal districts serving 15 states. These included areas in key states of Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Texas, all of which have shown a close race between President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. The federal judge in Washington, D.C. issued the order at the request of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Vote Forward organization.

Following the appointment of Louis DeJoy, a prominent donor to Trump and the Republicans, Democrats have expressed serious concerns about the processing of postal ballots. After DeJoy took over the role in June, a large number of mail processing machines were taken out of service and the USPS fell behind with significant delays. The USPS has insisted that despite the problems, there have been no concerted efforts to delay votes.

Due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, voters turned to postal voting in unprecedented numbers. Meanwhile, Trump has repeatedly attacked the postal vote without evidence that it will lead to massive voter fraud. However, tens of millions of voters were not deterred by the President’s attacks, as more than 65 million postal ballots have already been returned, according to an analysis by the U.S. Election Project.

This story has been updated with additional background information.

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