DETROIT (AP) – Absent voters must reach election day to be counted, the Michigan Court of Appeals said Friday, blocking a 14-day extension ordered by a lower court and embraced by key Democratic officials in a state of disarray.
Any changes should belong to the legislature, not the judiciary, said the Republican Court of Appeals judges appointed in a 3-0 opinion.
No-vote extensions in Wisconsin and Indiana have also been overturned by higher courts.
Michigan’s ability to cope with the flood of voters will be closely monitored in a situation won by President Donald Trump in 2016. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said last week that 2.7 million people had requested absent ballots as a result of a change in law that makes them available to any voter.
Michigan law states that absent ballots must be delivered by 8 p.m. on Election Day to be valid. However, Securities and Exchange Judge Cynthia Stephens had ruled that any stamped vote by November 2 could be counted if it arrived within two weeks of the November 3 election.
Stephens said there was “indistinct evidence” of mail delivery problems due to the coronavirus pandemic. He said more than 6,400 ballots arrived too late to be counted in early August.
The appeals court, however, said the pandemic and any delivery problems “are not due to the state”.
“While these factors may complicate the plaintiffs’ voting process, they do not automatically equate to the loss of the right to vote in absentia,” the court said, noting that hundreds of special ballot boxes have been set up across Michigan.
The court also reversed another part of Stephens’ decision, which would allow a family member to deliver a full ballot in the last days before the election, if a voter consents.
Attorney General Benson and Michigan Dana Nessel, both Democrats, refused to appeal Stephens’ rulings, leaving it to the Republican legislature.
“I am pleased to see this unanimous decision to uphold the integrity of our electoral process and to reject the judicial excess,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said on Twitter.
The Democratic Party of Michigan was disappointed.
“Voters should not be punished for delays in the US Postal Service or for unexpected emergencies that could be a challenge to get to the polls on Election Day,” the party said.
The case was heard by Appellate Judges Michael Gadola, Mark Boonstra and Thomas Cameron. It was all appointed by Rick Snyder, a Republican, when he was governor and then elected.
The lawsuit was filed by a group called the Michigan Alliance for Retired Americans.
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