The Michigan Court of Appeals on Friday 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 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 Friday that the pandemic and issues with mail delivery “are not attributable to the state.”
The judges also said that 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 Rick Snyder, a Republican, when he was governor and then subsequently elected.
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.
“This is a great day for the rule of law,” Michigan Republican Party chair Laura Cox said in a statement on Friday. “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 said in a statement.
Republican National Committee (RNC) chair 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.”
This reverses an earlier ruling that allowed for ballots to be returned as late as *two weeks* after the election.
We are fighting back against Democrats – and winning!
Learn more at https://t.co/tidEkbV9KS. (2/2)
— Ronna McDaniel (@GOPChairwoman) October 17, 2020
Michigan Democratic Party chair Lavora Barnes said in a statement that the party was “disappointed” in the decision.
“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 Michigan 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 Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, both Democrats, declined to appeal Stephens’s rulings, reported The Associated Press.
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 thin margin of just 10,704 votes—0.3 percent—over his then-rival Hillary Clinton.
Zachary Stieber and The Associated Press contributed to this report.