Michigan Court Overturns 2-Week Absentee Ballot Extension

Michigan Court Overturns 2-Week Absentee Ballot Extension
Stickers that read "I Voted By Mail" sit on a table waiting to be stuffed into envelopes by absentee ballot election workers at the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections office in Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 4, 2020. (Logan Cyrus/AFP via Getty Images)
Mimi Nguyen Ly

The Michigan Court of Appeals has overturned a lower court ruling that allowed absentee ballots to arrive up to 14 days after Election Day, meaning that all absentee ballots in the state must now arrive by 8 p.m. on Nov. 3.

Michigan Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens last month had ordered the extension “for the avoidance of doubt."
“The evidence in this case stands uncontroverted and establishes that the mail system is currently fraught with delays and uncertainty in light of the COVID-19 pandemic,” she wrote in a ruling (pdf).

Appeals court judges overturning the order said in a 3–0 opinion on Oct. 16 that the pandemic and issues with mail delivery "are not attributable to the state."

The judges also said absentee voters have other ballot delivery options, including hundreds of special boxes that have been set up across Michigan.

The lawsuit was filed by a group called Michigan Alliance for Retired Americans and the case was heard by appeals court Judges Mark Boonstra, Michael Gadola, and Thomas Cameron. All were appointed by then-Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican.

The court also reversed another part of Stephens's decision that allowed a non-family member to deliver a completed ballot in the final days before the election if a voter consented.

“The constitution is not suspended or transformed even in times of a pandemic, and judges do not somehow become authorized in a pandemic to rewrite statutes or to displace the decisions made by the policymaking branches of government,” Boonstra said in a separate 10-page concurring opinion.

Absentee ballot extensions in Wisconsin and Indiana have also previously been overturned.
"This is a great day for the rule of law," Michigan Republican Party Chairperson Laura Cox said in a statement on Oct. 16. "It’s important that the rules aren’t changed during an election to advantage one party over another. I applaud the Michigan Court of Appeals for standing up for the rule of law and the laws passed by the people’s representatives."
"Happy to see this unanimous ruling to uphold the integrity of our elections process and reject judicial overreach," Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey wrote on Twitter.

Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel called the move "great news for election integrity," adding that she believed the absentee ballot extension order had "favored Democrats and allowed ballot harvesting in the state."

The Michigan Democratic Party is "disappointed" with the decision, the state's party chairperson, Lavora Barnes, said in a statement.

"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," she said. "Our courts should be following the example set by Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, and reinforcing efforts that remove barriers to voting."

She added that the state Democratic Party encourages voters to actively obtain an absentee ballot and cast their vote as soon as possible.

"This is the most important election of our lifetime and it is essential that every vote cast is counted."

Benson and state Attorney General Dana Nessel, both Democrats, declined to appeal Stephens’s rulings, The Associated Press reported.

Michigan is a crucial swing state with about 7.7 million registered voters, 1.3 million of whom are on the permanent absentee ballot list. Earlier this year, Benson announced that all state residents would receive absentee ballot applications; she said last week that 2.7 million people had requested absentee ballots.

President Donald Trump won Michigan in 2016 by a margin of just 10,704 votes—0.3 percent—over Hillary Clinton.

Zachary Stieber and The Associated Press contributed to this report.