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Postal Service plan would eliminate three mail sorting machines in North Dakota

Grand Forks Post Office 2020.JPG
A sign at the Grand Forks Post Office. (Grand Forks Herald photo)
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A plan, not yet enacted, to remove three sorting machines from North Dakota post offices would presumably slow mail delivery across the state.

Documents obtained by Motherboard, CNN and a host of other news outlets indicate that United States Postal Service administrators in May proposed removing three of 14 sorting machines across the state: one each at postal facilities in Grand Forks, Fargo and Bismarck. Those are the three busiest in the state.

The machines that would be removed under the proposal are “delivery bar code sorters” and they’re fed by “advanced facer canceler systems.” Combined, they form a chain that dates letters, attaches a barcode to them if necessary, and sorts them by destination before they’re loaded onto trucks and hauled to their next stop.

Removing a “DBCS” machine means some of that work would need to be done by hand, which could bottleneck the system and mean mail has to wait an extra day or longer at a given distribution center, according to Tracy Valentine, the president of the North Dakota chapter of the American Postal Workers Union. The machines can sort 35,000 pieces of mail per hour, and Valentine said it would take a clerk three or four hours to do the same, which means a given piece of mail is less likely to be sorted before trucks head out.

“And then it’s just a constant delay ... because you never catch up,” she explained. “It slows down the mail.”

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Staff at the Fargo facility said none of their sorting machines have been removed, and Valentine said none of the Grand Forks machines have been removed, either.

Nathan Atherton, the Grand Forks Post Office’s plant manager, declined to comment on Friday. He told the Herald to contact Postal Service spokesman Floyd Wagoner, who on Thursday would only point to a statement made by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.

In that statement, DeJoy, a businessman and Republican donor who ran a series of logistics and shipping companies before he was appointed to his post in May of this year, wrote that mail processing equipment and collection boxes would remain where they are and that “longstanding operational initiatives” would be suspended until after November’s election.

November's election has become a political fulcrum in a debate over the postal service’s future. One side: those who point to the service’s massive operational deficits. On another: those who worry that cuts to the service could undermine mail-in voting efforts, which have become particularly prevalent during the outbreak of a novel coronavirus.

Attorneys general from 14 states, including Minnesota, sued DeJoy and President Donald Trump on Tuesday, alleging that some of the changes the postmaster general has made to the service are illegal, such as eliminating overtime, removing mailboxes and decommissioning some sorting machines.

“These removals are diminishing and will continue to diminish the Postal Service’s capacity to speedily process flat mail, such as ballots,” the attorneys general wrote in their lawsuit.

North Dakota law requires mail-in ballots to be counted if they’re postmarked by the day before election day and are received before jurisdictions begin canvassing their votes. Debbie Nelson, Grand Forks County’s auditor, told Forum News Service she had been assured that nothing had changed in a way that would harm how the postal service handles ballots or applications for ballots.

And Michael Monstplaisir, Cass County’s finance director, said he didn’t expect mail-in voting would be a problem this fall.

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He nonetheless recommended that North Dakotans bring their ballots to the post office by the Friday of the week before the election.

Related Topics: GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

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