TRENTON — The state of New Jersey has joined a federal lawsuit seeking to block changes at the U.S. Postal Service.

In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., with New York City, the state of New York, Hawaii and San Francisco, the state says that the Postal Service's reductions in overtime, mail-sorting machines and public mailboxes are illegal because they were implemented without a public hearing.

More urgently, state Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal said the changes could also disrupt the November election in addition to harming people who rely on the mail to deliver medication.

“Voting by mail is safe, secure, and reliable and we intend to keep it that way for New Jerseyans," Grewal said Tuesday in a written statement. "Americans will vote by mail in record numbers this November and the Postal Service’s dramatic changes threaten to disenfranchise voters by disrupting mail service. We will continue working with other state Attorneys General to protect the election and voter rights.”

The Postal Service has become the newest battleground in this year's presidential contest, with President Donald Trump assailing the legitimacy of mail-in voting, which more states will be relying on because of the pandemic.

This month, Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order requiring that all active voters receive a mail-in ballot for the November election. Limited polling places will be open on Election Day to accommodate people who want to personally hand-in their ballot or to provide provisional ballots to voters who either did not receive a mail-in ballot or prefer not to use one.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, in testimony to Congress on Monday, denied that changes at the independent public agency were intended to affect the November elections. DeJoy, a Trump campaign donor, told lawmakers that he has spoken to members of Trump's campaign to say that the president's attacks are “not helpful.”

DeJoy told the House panel that election mail is his “No. 1 priority,” adding that he will authorize expanded use of overtime, extra truck trips and other measures in the weeks before the election to ensure on-time delivery of ballots.

He disputed reports that he has eliminated overtime for postal workers and said a Postal Service document outlining overtime restrictions was written by a mid-level manager. Last week, DeJoy said he was halting some of his operational changes “to avoid even the appearance of impact on election mail.”

Still, DeJoy vehemently refused to restore decommissioned mail-sorting machines and blue collection boxes, saying they are not needed. He also said he would continue policies limiting when mail can go out as well as a halting of late delivery trips, which postal workers have said contributes to delays.

“What the heck are you doing?” Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass. asked DeJoy.

“Either through gross incompetence, you have ended the 240-year history of delivering the mail reliably on time. Or ... you’re doing this on purpose and deliberately dismantling this once proud tradition," Lynch said.

DeJoy has downplayed delivery delays and said the agency is fully capable of processing this year’s mail-in ballots. He urged voters to request mail-in ballots at least 15 days before the Nov. 3 election and mail them back at least seven days prior to Election Day.

The lawsuit filed by New Jersey and the other jurisdictions noted that a USPS distribution center in Jersey City last week was still sorting Marketing Mail packages that had been intended for delivery a month ago.

“The Postal Service’s unofficial motto states that ‘neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,’” Grewal said. “The Postal Service has served Americans well since our country’s founding. We are filing this lawsuit to ensure that even politically motivated cutbacks won’t prevent the timely delivery of our residents’ mail.”

(Includes material Copyright 2020 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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