Absentee ballots must arrive by election day to be counted, the Michigan Court of Appeals said Friday, blocking a 14-day extension that had been ordered by a lower court and embraced by key Democratic officials in the presidential battleground state.
Any changes must rest with the Legislature, not the judiciary, the Republican-appointed appeals court judges said in a 3-0 opinion.
Absentee ballot extensions in Wisconsin and Indiana have also been overturned by higher courts.
Michigan’s ability to handle a flood of ballots will be closely watched in a state that was narrowly won by Donald Trump in 2016. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said last week that 2.7 million people had requested absentee ballots, the result of a change in law that makes them available to any voter.
Michigan law says absentee ballots must be turned in by 8 p.m. on election day to be valid. But Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens had ordered that any ballots postmarked by Nov. 2 could be counted if they arrived within two weeks after the Nov. 3 election.
Stephens said there was “unrefuted evidence” of mail delivery problems because of the COVID-19 pandemic. She said more than 6,400 ballots arrived too late to be counted in the August primary.
The appeals court, however, said the pandemic and any delivery woes “are not attributable to the state.”
“Although those factors may complicate plaintiffs’ voting process, they do not automatically amount to a loss of the right to vote absentee,” the court said, noting that hundreds of special boxes have been set up across Michigan.
The court also reversed another portion of Stephens’ decision, which would have allowed a non-family member to deliver a completed ballot in the final days before the election if a voter consented.
Republicans and the Trump campaign have filed numerous lawsuits aiming to stop expansion of voting access during the pandemic, which has killed more than 218,000 people in the U.S. Trump has stated that expanded voting by mail could hurt Republicans’ election chances.
Michigan Atty. Gen. Dana Nessel and Benson, both Democrats, had declined to appeal Stephens’ rulings, leaving it to the Republican-controlled Legislature to intervene.
“Happy to see this unanimous ruling to uphold the integrity of our elections process and reject judicial overreach,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey tweeted.
The Michigan Democratic Party said, “Voters should not be punished for delays in the U.S. Postal Service or for unexpected emergencies that could make it a challenge for them to get to the polls on election day.”
The case was heard by appeals court judges Michael Gadola, Mark Boonstra and Thomas Cameron. All were appointed by then-Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, and then subsequently elected to their appointed seats.
The lawsuit was filed by a group called the Michigan Alliance for Retired Americans.
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