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Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Michigan Ballots That Arrive After Election Day Will Not Be Counted, Court Rules

Topline

Mail-in ballots in Michigan will need to arrive by Election Day to guarantee they are counted, a state appeals court decided Friday in a reversal of a lower court’s ruling, raising a new potential obstacle as officials in the battleground state prepare for an unprecedented surge of absentee votes that the U.S. Postal Service is expected to struggle to deliver on time.

Key Facts

The Michigan Court of Appeals’ 3-0 decision means absentee ballots must arrive for counting by the time polls close on Nov. 3, in accordance with an existing state law.

The ruling struck down a lower court’s order last month that late-arriving ballots should be counted up to 14 days after the election, as long as they were postmarked by Nov. 2.

A panel of three appeals court judges — all of whom were appointed by Republican former Gov. Rick Snyder — argued a deadline for ballots is not an unreasonable burden on the right to vote, especially since the state has an interest in election security.

The Michigan Alliance for Retired Americans, the plaintiffs in the case, did not immediately respond to Forbes when asked whether they plan on appealing the ruling with the state Supreme Court.

Michigan’s Secretary of State is urging voters to mail in their ballots no later than Oct. 19, which is 15 days before the election: “The Secretary of State has consistently urged voters to apply for and return absent voter ballots as far ahead of Election Day as possible,” a spokesperson told Forbes.

Crucial Quote

“To be sure, the pandemic has caused considerable change in our lives, but election officials have taken considerable steps to alleviate the potential effects,” the judges wrote. “While plaintiffs may view these efforts as inadequate first steps, there is no reason to believe that these specific efforts are constitutionally required, even in the midst of a pandemic.”

Key Background

After states like Michigan expanded their mail-in voting options this year, the system became a point of partisan contention. President Donald Trump has railed against the practice and made inaccurate claims about voter fraud, and Trump-appointed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has introduced changes that critics fear could slow down the delivery of absentee ballots. In August, the Postal Service warned 46 states — including Michigan — that some of their mail-in ballots could arrive after their counting deadlines, causing some advocates to file lawsuits to ensure that state officials count any late-arriving ballots. Judges ultimately extended the deadlines in states like Pennsylvania, but Michigan may end up reverting to stricter rules that could leave some absentee ballots uncounted.

Big Number

10,704 votes. That was Trump’s margin of victory in Michigan in 2016. The state is expected to be extremely close again in 2020, and incumbent Sen. Gary Peters (D) is also facing a tight reelection bid.

Further Reading

Appeals court reverses ruling that said late-arriving absentee ballots must be counted (Detroit Free Press)

Postal Service warns 46 states their voters could be disenfranchised by delayed mail-in ballots (Washington Post)

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