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Judge orders U.S. postal service to do twice daily sweeps for states still receiving ballots

(Reuters) - A judge on Thursday ordered twice daily sweeps at U.S. Postal Service (USPS) facilities serving states with extended ballot receipt deadlines and set a conference for Friday, as votes were still being counted in U.S. election battleground states.

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Some states, including still undecided Nevada and North Carolina, are counting ballots that are received after Election Day Tuesday. Plaintiffs lawyers in a lawsuit said the Postal Service delivered roughly 150,000 ballots nationwide on Wednesday despite the extraordinary measures taken to get ballots delivered by Tuesday.

Of those, roughly 8,000 or 9,000, were delivered after Tuesday even though they had been mailed by Sunday.

Judge Emmet Sullivan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Thursday said the processing centers must perform morning sweeps and then afternoon sweeps “to ensure that any identified local ballots can be delivered that (same)day.”

Sullivan issued a separate order requiring USPS to file additional data from districts covering North Carolina and Pennsylvania. He also ordered USPS to “coordinate with all local county Boards of Elections in North Carolina or Pennsylvania” in order to deliver all ballots “before 5:00 PM local time in North Carolina or Pennsylvania” on Friday.

The judge also directed additional steps to ensure delivery of ballots in two states before the deadline. He set a new status conference for Friday at 11 a.m. EST.

Sullivan previously urged USPS to take all possible steps to ensure ballots are delivered. He ordered sweeps in response to lawsuits by civil rights groups and others, including Vote Forward, the NAACP, and Latino community advocates.

USPS said Thursday that it had delivered 135 million blank and completed ballots since Sept. 4, up from 122 million as of Oct. 29.

USPS must report to headquarters “the total number of ballots identified and confirm that those ballots have been expedited for delivery to meet applicable extended state deadlines,” Sullivan added in one of his orders Thursday.

Ballots were still being counted by election officials in battleground states two days after polls closed in one of the most unusual elections in U.S. history because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Democratic candidate Joe Biden was cutting into Republican President Donald Trump’s leads in Pennsylvania and Georgia but retained slim margins in Nevada and Arizona.

Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Grant McCool

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