Mail-in ballots postmarked by November 2 must be counted up to two weeks after the presidential election, a Michigan judge ruled this week. The ruling also authorizes the temporary use of ballot harvesting.
Michigan Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens essentially extended the deadline for mail-in ballots to be counted, even if they arrive after the polls close on Election Day, which stood as the previous deadline. Stephens attributed her ruling to the impact of the Chinese coronavirus pandemic:
Breaking news: A Michigan judge said the state must accept ballots that arrive within 14 days of the election as long as they are postmarked by November 2. This will likely mean thousands more ballots will count in a state decided by 10,000 votes in 2016. https://t.co/3uUqfIsrRt
— Sam Levine (@srl) September 18, 2020
The judge also said Michigan cannot restrict who can help voters return an absentee ballot from the Friday before election day through election day (Michigan law only allows certain people to do so)
— Sam Levine (@srl) September 18, 2020
“The unrefuted affidavits and documents compel the conclusion that, in light of delays attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic, mail delivery has become significantly compromised, and the risk for disenfranchisement when a voter returns an absent voter ballot by mail is very real,” Stephens stated in the lawsuit the Michigan Alliance for Retired Americans lodged.
The ruling also authorizes the use of ballot harvesting — allowing a third party to deliver the ballots, although it is confined to a specific timeframe.
The ruling states:
As it concerns the voter assistance ban, MCL 168.932(f) is unconstitutional as applied to only a narrow timeframe: the time between 5:01 p.m. on the Friday before the election and Election Day, i.e., when the clerk or an assistant is not required to assist a voter who wishes to cast an absent voter ballot. During this timeframe, and only during this timeframe, a voter may select any third party of his or her choosing to render assistance in returning an absent voter ballot. Any penalties and prohibitions that would otherwise apply to the mere act of helping a voter return an absent voter ballot, 3 including those found in MCL 168.932 and MCL 168.935, will be enjoined from applying during this specified timeframe only.
“Normally, it is a misdemeanor to hire drivers to take voters to polling places unless they physically cannot walk,” the outlet reported:
Stephens said she heard evidence about one case in which a ballot mailed to the clerk’s office in Wyandotte was routed out of state, to Illinois, before arriving late at its intended address.
That was just one of “the over 6.400 otherwise valid ballots that were rejected for having been received after the election day receipt deadline,” she said.
Similarly, on Thursday, a Pennsylvania judge ruled that ballots received three days after the election must be counted, regardless of evidence of a timely postmark.
As Breitbart News reported:
Democrats scored two judicial victories in Pennsylvania on Thursday, when the court kicked the Green Party presidential candidate off the ballot, and ruled that mailed-in ballots could still be counted util 5:00 p.m. ET on the third day after Election Day, as long as they were postmarked by 8:00 p.m ET that day.
The court added: that “ballots received within this period” — i.e. between November 3 and 6 –“that lack a postmark or other proof of mailing, or for which the postmark or other proof of mailing is illegible, will be presumed to have been mailed by Election Day unless a preponderance of the evidence demonstrates that it was mailed after Election Day.”
In a footnote, the court explains its reasoning, saying that disqualifying a ballot without a postmark would “disenfranchise a voter based upon the absence or illegibility of a USPS postmark that is beyond the control of the voter once she places her ballot in the USPS delivery system.”
Michigan and Pennsylvania are both crucial battleground states President Trump hopes to secure again this year after defeating Hillary Clinton in both states in 2016 by less than a single percentage point.