A man walks by a row of U.S. Postal Service mailboxes on his way to the post office on Tuesday in Portland. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

WASHINGTON — Postmaster General Louis DeJoy was ordered to immediately expand mail delivery with extra trips and later deliveries after the U.S. Postal Service failed to improve performance less than a week before the election.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan in Washington late Tuesday granted an emergency request to enforce and monitor compliance with an earlier injunction he ordered. The ruling is a victory for civil rights groups and Democratic-led states that alleged in several lawsuits that the changes were undermining the election to the benefit of President Donald Trump.

“USPS personnel are instructed to perform late and extra trips to the maximum extent necessary to increase on-time mail deliveries, particularly for election mail,” Sullivan said. “To be clear, late and extra trips should be performed to the same or greater degree than they were performed prior to July 2020 when doing so would increase on-time mail deliveries.”

On-time delivery of First Class mail dropped to 69.8 percent on Tuesday, down more than 6 percentage points from previous days, the USPS said in a court filing Wednesday.

Mail delivery has taken on a new urgency amid a surge in the use of mail-in ballots during the pandemic and Republican efforts to block the counting of ballots that arrive after Election Day, even if they’re mailed on time. And conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court signaled this week that counting any ballots that arrive after Election Day could lead to “charges of a rigged election.”

“DeJoy has either been unable or unwilling to fix what he broke within the Postal Service and to get our mail delivery back to what it was before he started on the job,” Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, the Democratic chairman of the Subcommittee on Government Operations, said in an emailed statement. “With serious delays in performance continuing, particularly in certain urban areas, I urge any American who has not yet voted to do so in person or by delivering their ballot to properly designated election offices or drop boxes.”

Sullivan gave DeJoy until Thursday to distribute guidance to USPS leadership across the country with state-specific ballot-receipt deadlines and remind them of the need to “ensure that completed ballots reach the appropriate election official by the state’s designated deadline.”

Sullivan ordered DeJoy to issue a one-page notice advising managers to rescind July guidance limiting the use of late and extra delivery trips. The USPS has argued that it was complying with the earlier injunction and that data showing a sharp drop in the use of overtime and late trips had nothing to do with election mail. The judge said he wants to be updated daily by the USPS on its use of late trips.

USPS spokesman Dave Partenheimer said in a statement Wednesday that the Postal Service is complying with the court order and taking its legal obligations “very seriously.”

“We are deploying extraordinary measures — expedited handling, extra deliveries and special pickups — consistent with practices used in past elections to accelerate the delivery of ballots to its intended destination,” Partenheimer said.

Story by Erik Larson and Todd Shields.

© 2020 Bloomberg News

Visit Bloomberg News at www.bloomberg.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.