A federal appeals court blocked Minnesota Democrats from extending the state’s mail-in ballot deadline past Election Day, handing state Republicans a major legal victory.
In a 2-1 ruling, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that mail-in ballots in Minnesota must be received by Nov. 3 in order to be counted. The court ruled that Minnesota secretary of state Steve Simon violated the Constitution when he attempted to extend "the deadline for receipt of ballots without legislative authorization."
Minnesota Republicans filed the lawsuit in September to challenge Simon’s proposal, which would have allowed mail-in ballots to be counted until Nov. 10, a full week after Election Day, even if they lacked a postmark. State representative Eric Lucero (R.) and Republican elector James Carson said in their suit that the decree was unconstitutional and in violation of federal law. The suit accused Simon of abusing his authority and challenged the legality of counting ballots without any evidence the ballots were cast on or before Election Day.
The decision comes with just days to go before the election. It could bolster Republican campaigns in the battleground state. Polling indicates that President Trump is within range of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in the state. While Biden enjoyed a lead in the high single-digits earlier this month, polls have narrowed between the two.
As the race has tightened, Republicans and Democrats have appealed to the courts to settle disputes over election laws. While Democrats have often sought to push back ballot deadlines and expand voting opportunities, Republicans have fought back against such decisions, warning of the potential for voter fraud.
Jason Snead, executive director of the Honest Elections Project, which supported the lawsuit, praised the court's decision.
"Secretary Simon attempted to unilaterally rewrite state law. In doing so, he needlessly introduced confusion into the voting process," Snead said in an email. "Tonight’s ruling by the court is a tremendous victory for voters, fair elections, and the rule of law in Minnesota."
The Trump campaign and Republican members of the Minnesota state legislature also filed a separate motion on Thursday to require election officials to separate mail-in ballots received before Election Day from those received after Election Day and those received after the extended mail-in ballot deadline of November 10.
The appeals court acknowledged the potential for confusion.
"[We] 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 in its decision. "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."
Lawsuits concerning ballot deadlines have garnered mixed results in other swing states. The Supreme Court dealt a pair of blows to legal challenges in Pennsylvania and North Carolina where Republicans pushed for an end to extended grace periods for mail-in ballots, citing election integrity concerns. The Court declined to strike down Pennsylvania's three-day period of accepting ballots after Election Day and did not shorten North Carolina’s period of accepting ballots from nine days to three days.
In Wisconsin, the Court sided with Republicans after rejecting a bid from Democrats to allow the counting of mail-in ballots received after Election Day.