Appeals Court Blocks Minnesota Absentee Ballot-Counting Extension

By Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.
October 30, 2020Updated: October 30, 2020

A federal appeals court on Oct. 29 struck down a week-long extension for counting absentee ballots in the battleground state of Minnesota in the Nov. 3 election.

In a 2-1 decision (pdf), the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals said Thursday that the state’s plan to count absentee ballots received after Election Day was an unconstitutional maneuver by Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon (D), the state’s top election official.

The appeals court said that absentee ballots in the key presidential battleground state will be due by 8 p.m. on election night.

“The Secretary’s instructions to count mail-in ballots received up to seven days after Election Day stand in direct contradiction to Minnesota election law governing presidential elections,” the ruling said.

“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. The democratically-enacted election rules in Minnesota provide that mail-in votes must be received by 8:00 p.m. on Election Day in order to be counted (or 3:00 p.m. if delivered in person).”

“There is no pandemic exception to the Constitution,” the majority wrote.

Simon in a statement Thursday night called the ruling “a tremendous and unnecessary disruption.”

“This last-minute change could disenfranchise Minnesotans who were relying on settled rules for the 2020 election—rules that were in place before the August 11 primary and were accepted by all political parties,” he said.

Simon had argued that due to the surge in absentee ballots amid the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic, they should be able to be counted given they are postmarked by Nov. 3 and received within a week.

Minnesota law requires that absentee ballots be received by Election Day. But that deadline was extended through a settlement Simon reached with a citizens group that sued earlier this year.

Under that settlement, which was approved by a judge, state election officials could count ballots received until Nov. 10 as long as they are postmarked by Nov. 3.

The settlement said if a mailed ballot was missing a postmark, election officials should presume it was mailed by Nov. 3 unless evidence showed otherwise.

Following the ruling, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) urged voters to not mail in their ballots.

“Because of LAST MINUTE ruling, Minnesota DO NOT put ballots in mail any more,” Klobuchar wrote on Twitter. “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.”

The state’s Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan welcomed the decision.

“We applaud the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals for upholding the integrity of the election and affirming Election Day as November 3rd,” Carnahan said in a statement. “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.”

Reuters contributed to this report.