Colorado Secretary Of State Sues US Postal Service Over Election Mailer

September 12, 2020
Ballot Sorting Counting Denver Elections DivisionBallot Sorting Counting Denver Elections DivisionHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Rick Gonzalez organizes mail-in ballots before they are fed to a sorting machine at Denver Elections Division headquarters on primary night, June 30, 2020.

Updated 7:24 a.m. on Sept. 13, 2020

A federal judge late Saturday banned the United States Postal Service from sending an election mailer that two elected officials in Colorado say is misleading.

Secretary of State Jena Griswold and Attorney General Phil Weiser sued to try to stop the Postal Service notice from arriving in Coloradans’ mailboxes over the next several days, though some households have already received the mailer.

It was sent to every residential address and P.O. Box in the country, providing general guidance for U.S. citizens who plan to vote by mail in 2020, promising “a secure, effective way to deliver your ballot.” 

But Griswold and Weiser are concerned the mailer will confuse people about how to vote by mail in Colorado since the information from the Postal Service is not specific to Colorado’s voting process. The lawsuit, in which Griswold is the plaintiff, said the mailer has the potential to make voters “wrongly believe that they may not participate in the upcoming election.”

In Colorado, all active registered voters will be mailed a ballot, whether they request one or not. Ballots are currently set to go out Oct. 9. The Postal Service mailer instructs people to request a ballot at least 15 days before the election ends, but Griswold emphasized in her lawsuit that it is not necessary to request a ballot here. People who don’t receive a ballot because they have moved, the ballot gets lost, or for some other reason, can request a replacement or vote in person up through Election Day. 

Eligible Coloradans can also register to vote in person on Election Day. Griswold is concerned that the Postal Service mailer recommends a deadline by which to return ballots, which is not necessarily accurate since Coloradans can return ballots to drop boxes through Election Day.

Griswold’s lawsuit comes after months of national debate over the role of mailed ballots in the 2020 election. Many states are expanding vote-by-mail significantly in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, whereas Colorado has mailed ballots to all registered voters since 2013.

Griswold has repeatedly criticized President Donald Trump about his critiques and false statements about mailed ballots and voting by mail. She threatened to sue Trump earlier this week after he encouraged voters to test the security of vote-by-mail systems.

The lawsuit she filed along with Weiser calls the mailer an “attempt at voter suppression.” 

U.S. Postal Spokesman Dave Partenheimer said in an email that “it is absolutely not an attempt to suppress voting. Quite to the contrary, we are simply trying to educate our customers who decide to use the mail to vote how to do so effectively.”  

He said that the “main message” of the mailer is that “voters should plan ahead, educate themselves about voting options available in their jurisdiction, and, if they choose to vote by mail, to give themselves enough time to receive, complete and return their ballot.” He noted that the mailer directs people to a website where they can click through to their state’s election information.

Nevertheless, the federal judge Saturday night granted a temporary restraining order to halt the circulation. The judge said the mailer provides false and misleading information about Colorado's elections.

Partenheimer said the mailer has already reached many Americans, including some in Colorado, and had been set to be delivered to everyone by the end of the coming week.

US Postal Service mailer election 2020Rachel Estabrook/CPR News
The front of the U.S. Postal Service mailer that Coloradans were mailed in Sept. 2020.

CPR News Justice Reporter Allison Sherry contributed reporting to this story.