Oct 29, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Court rules Minnesota absentee ballots must be received by 8 p.m. Election Day

An election judge drops a ballot in a ballot box at a drive through drop-off for absentee ballots on August 11, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

An election judge drops a ballot in a ballot box at a drive through drop-off for absentee ballots in Minneapolis. Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

An appeals court on Thursday ruled that Minnesota absentee ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day to be counted.

Why it matters: The ruling, which comes just five days before the election, blocks the state's plan to count absentee ballots arriving late so long as they're postmarked by Nov. 3 and delivered within a week of the election. Now those ballots must be set aside and marked late.

  • The extension was put in place due to the coronavirus pandemic.

What they're saying: The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals said in its 2-1 decision that the attempt by the state's secretary of state "to re-write the laws governing the deadlines for mail-in ballots in the 2020 Minnesota presidential election is invalid."

  • "However well-intentioned and appropriate from a policy perspective in the context of a pandemic during a presidential election, it is not the province of a state executive official to re-write the state’s election code, at least as it pertains to selection of presidential electors."
  • "There is no pandemic exception to the Constitution."
  • The Minnesota Republican Party issued a statement in response to the decision, saying: “We applaud the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals for upholding the integrity of the election and affirming Election Day as November 3rd. The pandemic has caused upheaval in many areas of life but hiding behind the pandemic to manipulate the election process is not democratic, and we appreciate that our laws and interpretation of those laws matter.”

The ruling also says election officials must set aside absentee ballots postmarked on or before Election Day, but not received until after Nov. 3 in case a future ruling permits those votes to be counted.

  • "[W]e conclude the challenges that will stem from this ruling are preferable to a post-election scenario where mail-in votes, received after the statutory deadline, are either intermingled with ballots received on time or invalidated without prior warning," the court said.
  • "Better to put those voters on notice now while they still have at least some time to adjust their plans and cast their votes in an unquestionably lawful way."

The other side: In her dissent, Judge Jane Kelly wrote that the "court’s injunctive relief will cause voter confusion and undermine Minnesotans’ confidence in the election process."

  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) urged Minnesota voters on Twitter to "NOT put ballots in mail any more."
  • "In the middle of a pandemic, the Republican Party is doing everything to make it hard for you to vote. Stand up for YOUR rights: Vote in-person or take mail-in ballot directly to ballot box," Klobuchar added.

What to watch: Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon could still appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

  • In an interview with the Star Tribune on Thursday before the appellate panel’s ruling, Simon said that if extension rule was reversed, "it would be extraordinarily disruptive — not to mention disenfranchising."
  • A separate case involving the absentee extension is pending in the state's Supreme Court, per the Tribune.

The big picture: Thursday's decision is the latest in a series of decisions over ballot deadlines across the U.S. as the coronavirus pandemic rages on.

  • Earlier Thursday, the Supreme Court, for the second time in two days, rejected a GOP request to shorten the deadline mail-in ballots must be received by North Carolina officials to be counted.
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