A Michigan state judge ruled on Friday that absentee ballots that arrive after Election Day can still be counted.
Michigan Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens ruled that absentee ballots that are postmarked for November 2 can still be counted even if they arrive up to two weeks after polls close on Election Day, according to reporting from CNN and ABC News. Absentee ballots were previously only allowed to be counted if they arrived before 8 p.m. on Election Day.
The ruling says that the pandemic and related delays in mail delivery justified the extension.
“Even for those voters who are fortunate enough to receive their absent voter ballots in advance of the election, mail delays and the COVID-19 pandemic stack the deck against successfully casting an absent voter ballot by mail in a timely manner,” the ruling said. “For those with underlying health risks and who prefer not to cast a vote in person, returning the ballot by mail is the only realistic option.”
Stephens also ruled that absentee ballots can be collected by third parties to submit in the days leading up to the election, in a move often called “ballot harvesting,” CNN said.
The suit — brought against Michigan by Democracy Docket on behalf of Michigan Alliance for Retired Americans, the Detroit Chapter of the A. Philip Randolph Institute and individual voters — was lauded as a win by Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.
“No eligible voter should be disenfranchised through no fault of their own for exercising their right to vote by mail. The court’s decision recognizes many of the unique challenges that the pandemic has created for all citizens and will reduce the potential for voter disenfranchisement due to mail delays,” Benson said in a statement. “However we still want voters to make a plan to vote now, and not wait until the last minute if they want to vote by mail. That’s why we will continue to strongly encourage voters to request and return their absentee ballots as soon as possible.”
The suit did fail to win its effort to have the state pay for return postage for all mail-in ballots.
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Jordyn Pair is a reporter at The Michigan Star and Star News Digital Media. Follow her on Twitter at @JordynPair. Email her at [email protected]